I’m excited about the Super Bowl™. My hometown team stands to win its seventh title, and the city of PIttsburgh teems with excitement1. What’s not to love?

Well, there’s Ben, of course.

What do you do with him?

And everyone’s talking about it—can we forgive a man for [allegedly2] raping a twenty-year old girl in a bathroom in Georgia?—and I think there’s no real answer. At least not one I find satisfying.

Which brings me to the question circling over the Steel City: can we cheer on Ben Roesthlisberger, despite his criminal history, without feeling a bit dirty? How does sports idolatry contend with a sexual assailant? Does one thing have anything to do with the other?

I’m having a hard time reconciling the two.

As a means of answering the questions above, I’d like to take a second and think about Chick-Fil-A. Yesterday, I read in the New York Times that a Chick-Fil-A in Pennsylvania donated food to a rally put on by an organization notorious for being anti-gay. Okay, so a well-known conservative food chain3 sponsors an event to promote marriage which is in turn being put on by a group whose agenda includes anti-gay marriage propaganda. Chick-Fil-A’s associate with the Pennsylvania Family Institute has sparked protests across the country and cries for boycotting the company. From the NYT article:

“Does loving Chick-fil-A make you a bad gay?” said Rachel Anderson of Berkeley, Calif. “Oh, golly, human beings have an amazing capacity to justify a lot of things.”

Loving a chicken sandwich may mean you are anti-gay. With the myriad of endorsement chains, the socially conscious shopper has a lot of research to do these days. If I’m hungry and in the Cathedral of Learning’s basement, there’s a chance I might get some Chick-Fil-A. But the money I give to them may go to fund anti-gay-marriage groups, which I’m clearly against. In this case, though, the cruz of the argument is that a) Chick-Fil-A’s associations matter to me the consumer, because b) I give them money.

For any public figure, endorsements matter. And endorsements hinge on the sell-ability of the figure. So what happens when a public figure is associated with a bad thing?

Tiger Woods cheated and endorsement deals collapsed like Southern women on duvets. Tiger Woods issued apologies. Nike put him on a commercial with his dead father essentially admonishing him. Whoa.

Is Ben Roesthlisberger publicly associated with rape? Yes. Did he lose endorsements because of his image as a rapist? Yes. Was he shamed in the media in a fashion similar to other fall icons Michael Vick or Tiger Woods? I’m not sure. He’s certainly the villain in this story. Comparing Roethlisberger to Woods or Vick is difficult.

Tiger Woods did not sexually assault anyone. He cheated on his wife. Which, while bad, isn’t illegal or causing any physical harm that needs to be punished by law. Roesthlisberger’s alleged crime is exactly that, a crime.

Vick, while also a criminal, is guilty of a completely different set of crims—both puppy-murder and puppy-fight-ringmastering, which are hard to compare to rape in terms of severity for the obvious reasons4. So we’ll assume for argument’s sake that the charges are equal. But that’s the rub—Ben Roesthlisberger never got charged. So Vick plead guilty, served his time in jail, went bankrupt and came back to lead his team to the playoffs. And

  1. Friday night, downtown, my friends and I passed a boisterous couple dressed in full Steelers regalia, holding a week-old newspaper, headlines confirming us Dallas-bound. They yelled and whistled, asked us to join them in a chorus of “Here We Go, Steelers.” After the celebrants passed by, my friends and I debated the merits of “Stairway to Seven” or “Knocking on Seven’s Door.” Either way, we’re in heaven. And the city really is alive with cheer in an otherwise dismal season. []
  2. While some argue that her not pressing charges signifies the event did not happen, the D.A. in Georgia has stated that the victim chose to drop charges to avoid infringement on her personal life and not because events did not transpire as she initially described. []
  3. They’re closed on Sundays, people. []
  4. How do you compare the murder and exploitation of a non-human to psychological, physical, and sexual assault on another human being? []