Wednesday April 28th, 2010

At a certain point, don't you just stop caring whether our athletes -- who, for some reason or other are always called "role models" -- behave? Don't you just want to say: Let the thugs play. OK, if they violate the statute law, fine. Put them in the hoosegow. But really, otherwise, why are we expending so much angst worrying about the character of our well-muscled celebrities?

I mean, it is hopelessly apparent that Ben Roethlisberger is a perfectly dreadful person, prone to reprehensible behavior whenever he is let loose from the sanctioned violence of the gridiron. As Knute Rockne said many years ago: "The only qualifications for a lineman are to be big and dumb. To be a back, you only have to be dumb."

What earthly benefit is it to suspend Roethlisberger? Does it teach little, impressionable children a lesson? Is it going to make other football players pause late at night and think about being a role model when they are on the cusp of committing mayhem? I mean, let's give Roethlisberger credit. At least he wasn't packing a firearm like so many of his athletic brethren do when they are out taking the evening air.

No doubt his enforced vacation will hurt the Pittsburgh Steelers, but then, somebody has to lose, so it will help some other team. However, the National Football League itself is not affected a whit, except in the sanctimonious sense that it can pat itself on the back for standing foursquare in support of goodness.

What always confounds me is the premise that Commissioner Roger Goodell cited -- as do the other so-called czars of sport -- that their players "have to be held to a higher standard." But why? Why, of all people, are athletes, pretty much alone in our society, expected to be sweeter than the average angel? It is politicians and clergy and those maestros of finance on Wall Street who should be held to a higher standard. Why aren't they ever called "role models?" Why can't some tearful little impressionable tyke sob, "Say it ain't so, Goldman Sachs, say it ain't so," and thus change the pecking order in our cultural mythology?

And speaking of role models, it's nice to know that Tiger Woods has issued another sincere apology for all the little nasties he'd assured us he was going to take care of in prior sincere apologies. Perhaps Roethlisberger can join Tiger in his mystery rehabilitation.

So let me close this jeremiad by telling how we can get around this emotional dilemma: we simply acknowledge that not all role models have to be positive. After all, by definition, the term just means modeling a role, exemplifying a position. Attila the Hun, for example -- was there ever a better role model for pillage and raping? No. So, once we understand that and accept it, we can stop fretting and get back to the games.

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