Before Super Bowl XLV retreats into history and the threat of a lockout of the players dominates the coverage of the National Football League, let’s take a moment to reflect on how 111 million people managed to watch this sporting festival without encountering a single examination of the way in which “Big Ben” Roethlisberger and his history of reckless, if not criminal, behavior was “presented.”
The District Attorney in charge of the case refused to bring charges against Roethlisberger for an incident in a Georgia bar last May because he could not reasonably expect a conviction. He clearly stated, “We do not condone what Roethlisberger did. We do not prosecute morals. We prosecute crimes.” The “redemption of Big Ben” immediately swung into full force, and eight months later, the Super Bowl Sunday television coverage on several different networks of Roethlisberger included words such as “foolish,” “nonsensical,” “dumb” and “stupid” to describe the Pittsburgh quarterback’s behavior. How could it be that actions called “repulsive,” “unsettling,” “sexual assault” and “rape” in May are now nothing more offensive than “boys will be boys?”
The answer is that the sport media are coconspirators with the leagues and players they cover. Sports reporters are more cheerleading enablers than objective journalists. The Tuesday before the Super Bowl came and went without one substantive question put to Roethlisberger.
The NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, are no better. In May, when announcing his decision to suspend Roethlisberger for six games, Goodell said, “My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law. . . . That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.”
During the next few months, the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Roethlisberger maneuvered their way through a labyrinth of media relations to reduce the suspension to four games.
During the season, the NFL cracked down on dangerous hits to the heads of vulnerable players precisely at the same moment that the iconic Brett Favre’s disgusting cell phone habits came to light. Favre was ultimately fined $50,000 and allowed to slink away to his latest retirement, further demonstrating that in the hyper-masculine world of the NFL, women are less than worthless.
This narcissistic guy culture is not limited to the NFL but is deeply ingrained in almost all male sports. Consider that Florida International University is threatening to revoke working credentials of any member of the press who asks Garrett Wittels any non-baseball related questions at a press conference scheduled this week. Wittels is on a 56-game hit streak and on the verge of breaking Robin Ventura’s NCAA Division I record. He also is facing rape charges in the Bahamas for a Dec. 20 incident, having posted $10,000 bail. FIU has not yet made a decision on whether Wittels will play when the season opens. And ESPN still intends to televise FIU’s games on opening weekend.
Stephen Mosher is a professor of sport management and media. E-mail him at email@example.com.