Big Ben, Michael Wilbon & Why I Have To…

It is has been an up and down month in sports for me.  First there was my NCAA bracket and having to root for Duke.  Well, Duke made the Finals and all I need was for them to lose for me to win $1400 and 1st place in my pool or, if they won, they could still help me by scoring a lot of points which would have earned me over $100 and 3rd place in my pool.  Instead Duke, in classic Another-Reason-For-Me-To-Hate-Duke-Basketball form managed to win AND score just enough points to win a WNBA playoff game, causing me to lose the 3rd place tiebreaker and walk away with no money and the pain of a Duke Championship.

Baseball season has also started, with my usual apathy for Goldman Sachs, a/k/a The Wall Street Bombers, a/k/a The New York Yankees.  I’m sure by August I will care again, but right now I just get annoyed at all the people waxing nostalgic about the opening of baseball season like it’s still a team of neighborhood boys made good.

Then the Utah Jazz caused me great joy and frustration.  My favorite team since the age of 7 provided me with the greatest live sporting event I’ve ever attended with a thrilling 140-139 OT victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Kevin Durant of the Thunder had 45 points, but the Jazz won with  just over one second left.  Then, in classic fashion, the Jazz proceeded to lose their season finale (thanks in part to the sensitive, free agent contract-conscious, former Duke Blue Devil Carlos Boozer’s abdominal strain – never trust a Duke Blue Devil) going from a cozy 3 seed at home against the maligned Trailblazers and a second round match-up with the paper tigers known as the Dallas Mavericks, to a 5 seed on the road with match-ups against their two toughest opponents (if they win in the 1st round) Denver Nuggets and then the Los Angeles Lakers).  The Lakers’ Lamar Odom might as well call the Jazz Khloe he fu-ks them so shamelessly.

But all these highs and lows have taken a backseat to the biggest story affecting a team that I am a fan of – The Pittsburgh Steelers.  Their star quarterback, two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger, and soon-to-be-played-by Peter Stormare in a Lifetime movie has turned out to be at best, a man with a rich frat boy’s sense of entitlement or at worse, a serial rapist.  It of course brings to mind Kobe Bryant, who I think was the last comparable athlete, to be charged with a sex cime of this magnitude.

Now the Kobe Bryant case seemed to go much farther through the legal system than the Roethlisberger case has.  The rumors around the Kobe case were that he attempted to and may have successfully forced a back door slam dunk on the woman in Denver.  Now I have only met one woman who reacted with good humor (disturbing on many levels when pondered) at unexpected anal penetration, but this is not the time to re-hash my routine, so even considering that the woman went to Kobe’s room of her own free will, her back door is her back door and no is still supposed to mean no.

But Ben Roethlisberger does not even have that benefit (which of course raises the possibility that this is an incident representative of that time honored tradition in America which is the only crime worse than raping a white woman is being black and raping a white woman – not looking to address that here).  He seems to have, in the very least, acted aggressively and inappropriately towards this young woman and with the assistance of security guards.  I am not as troubled by the allegation that his security guards prevented her friends from getting to the alleged victim, because let’s face it – rock stars and athletes have had sex in all sorts of places and she could have been consenting to sex in a VIP lounge with a famous athlete.  Of course, she could have also been raped, which would make the bodyguards unknowing (or knowing) accomplices.

If this were a one time incident, the benefit of the doubt would be with Roethlisberger, but he has been accused of sexual assaults before.  Normally I don’t condone prostitution, but in Ben’s case it is better than the alternative.  Roethlisberger, in the very least, is placing himself in unsavory and compromising positions and deserves to be suspended by the league.  The Steelers have already said they will be suspending him because the organization, maybe worth a billion, still operates with a family business mentality and that is commendable.  It is even more troubling when you consider some of the “offended” fan base of the Steelers (after all, at Heinz Field last year was where I heard Joshua Cribbs of the Cleveland Brown get called a “Nigger” by a white Steeler fan and no one seemed to bat an eye). (Click below link for that Heinz Field tale)

So if that fan base is troubled, you know Big Ben is in big trouble.

But as I was saying before, Roethlisberger has a few options to sex crimes – he could have girlfriends in every city, so that he has variety, but with women he can trust a little better than strangers at a bar.  He could hire prostitutes.  Let’s face facts – these high end services cater to men like him and convicted of using a prostitute is a preferred alternative to even the social stigma of being acquitted of serial rape.  Or he could have a meeting with Derek Jeter and forge a discreet vaginal domination mentorship where he learns how to have successful sexual relations without crimes by him or extortion by her being committed.

But with these options available to a man of Roethlisberger’s stature, as well as previous incidents that should have been warnings, one must wonder, perhaps this is what Roethlisberger wants.  Rape after all is a crime of power, not sex.  So if Ben, given his competitive success, is into power and domination, then sexual gratification would not satisfy this lust.  Michael Jordan exhibited his OCD level competitiveness through excessive gambling, Tiger Woods through excessive relations with menstruating waitresses and perhaps Ben really is a man whose drive for success has a criminal and vile manifestation away from the playing field.  I am not a psychologist, but it makes sense to me.

I think the Steelers’ reaction has been appropriate, especially if they decide to trade Big Ben.  Even if Roethlisberger is innocent of all charges, he is obviously conducting himself in an embarrassing fashion and that alone gives the Steelers and the NFL a right to punish him to protect their corporate image.  But rape is in my opinion the worst crime there is, but perhaps that is why condemnation is coming more cautiously.  I am still surprised that allegations (and subsequent criminal conviction) of abuse of dogs by Michael Vick seemed to generate more outrage than Ben Roethlisberger’s alleged sexual assaults on women.

And on a side note, as a fan of Pardon The Interruption on ESPN, I have also found Michael Wilbon’s defense of Ben Roethlisberger reprehensible.  I am a big fan of PTI and a big fan of Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser.  But it seems Wilbon, unlike the curmudgeon Kornheiser, has spent too much time cultivating a hybrid existence of serious journalist and Ahmad Rashad-buddy relationships with superstar athletes that he now sees fit to defend, or at least omit criticism, of athletes he favors.  Tiger Woods is a glaring example.  Gilbert Arenas was another to a much lesser extent, but Wilbon’s Roethlisberger commentary has been awful.  He said flat out that he does not think Roethlisberger should be suspended.   He is clearly a Big Ben fan and that is fine, but the lack of a criminal conviction cannot be the only acceptable standard for allowing a player to continue business as usual.  And Wilbon scoffing at Roethlisberger’s loss of a beef jerky endorsement at the end of a show this week was equally insensitive.

All in all, it seems like it will be impossible for me to don a Roethlisberger jersey again.  To be fair I do have a Karl Malone jersey and he has not always been a model citizen, but he is a far cry from serial rapist (not to mention my inspiration for pursuing basketball).  And even if Ben is innocent of all criminal liability I’d still rather be associated with a black, redneck power forward than a jerk with a rich frat boy sense of entitlement.


“Tackle That Nigger” & Other Sights and Sounds At…

I was one of the big believers that some of the intense criticism (not so much the criticism itself, but the tone and language and unwarranted passion of the criticism) of President Obama was based on race.  People spoke of the tenor of the national conversation becoming increasingly hostile and aggressive.  Well, fortunately football fans in Pittsburgh do need the nuance of political arguments because they are more than happy to simply blurt out rude and offensive slurs.  Let me take you on a tour of this past Sunday’s Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns game.

As I walked to Heinz field with my brother we observed several classy t-shirts. “Baltimore sucks, Cleveland swallows” was one such shirt that was clearly debasing the national conversation on football and city supremacy.  Another shirt, however, caught our attention.  It simply said “Burn the Brownies.”  We joked to each other that there could be a not-so-subtle racial tone to that shirt. 

In Pittsburgh, Brownies are a rival and a euphamistic slur.
In Pittsburgh, Brownies are a rival and a euphamistic slur.

Everything seemed pretty normal walking to the stadium.  Fat men in Steelerjerseys mocked other fat men wearing Cleveland Browns jerseys.  My brother andI were actually quite surprised at the absence of homophobic slurs that usually abound at professional sporting events.  Maybe this would be an extra classy day at Heinz Field.

After we took our seats we were quickly joined by three men in our row.  They were all approximately 6’1, 220 lbs of high school football and college drinking weight.  They looked like they were about 22 years old.  They spoke like they were from the antebellum south, both in content and accent.  Here is what happened.

Sidenote- Can anyone explain to me how trailer parker/redneck is a uniform accent throughout the country?  I have met trailer parkers/rednecks from places as different as Alabama, Colorado and Michigan, but they all seem to have the identical twang. Weird.

1st Quarter

Comment one from Billy Bob (that is what I will call their ring leader) came at the expense of a black man wearing a Browns jersey.  Billy Bob yelled at this man, (loud enough for close by people to hear, but not loud enough for the man to actually hear) “Sit down Brownie, and I don’t just mean your jersey.” I gave Billy Bob the benefit of the doubt – either he had seen the former FEMA director or he was trying to be intentionally provocativefor his friends’ benefit, which as a comic I could understand a little.   Nothing to get to worked up over.

This guy is a fat racist.
This guy is a fat racist.

2nd Quarter

Listening to fans at a football game is generally like being at Church – don’t expect tons of logical or scientific words to be uttered.  In the former it makes sense because it is predicated on faith.  However, I am amazed at how dumb football fans can be, despite honoring it andfollowing it like it’s a religion.  In this quarter Billy Bob went to get some beers from the concession stand.  However, he was taking his “Terrible Towel,” which his buddy, Cletus, wanted to continue waving.  As soon as it was clear Billy Bob was going to throw the towel I knew it would land on my head.   Four seconds later as I sipped my hot chocolate, a terrible towel landed on my head. 

This angered my brother more than it did me, but what happened afterwards was even more awful.  Cletus, in his drunken 81 IQ way explained to me in these exact words, “Oh man, I’m sorry.  He was trying to throw the towel at me and hit you in the head.”  Oh, thanks for clarifying that for me!  I would have never known that that is what happened, except for the fact that I saw Billy Bob throw a towel and felt it land on my head.  Moron.

Then Cletus, with a chance to star as lead idiot while Billy Bob got beers, turned and spilled his entire current beer on an 11 year old kid in front of him.  Moron.

This kid had a beer dumped on him by dumb, racist crew.
This kid had a beer dumped on him by dumb, racist crew.

3rd Quarter

This climax of this experience occurred during this quarter.  With the Cleveland Browns running the Wildcat offense with a black player playing the quarterback (I don’t know most of their players’ names because they suck – oh correction – they swallow according to the Pittsburgh area literature) the Browns began to make some good plays.  And then, after a particularly good play, Billy Bob uttered the words that ruined my day and possibly won Eastern Pennsylvania for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary against Barack Obama:

“Tackle That Nigger.”

This was one of those moments for me where time sort of stopped.  I felt like Zach Morris in Saved By The Bell where only I could speak or hear what was happening.  My thoughts were, in order:

1) I need to Tweet this (shameful, but very modern reaction)

2) Wait, did Billy Bob  just really say that?  And that loudly?

3) Why is no one looking around? Did anyone hear that?  Or are they ok with it?

4) Damn – I am sure this guy has little interaction with mixed race people, but even so, I am going to have hit up a tanning bed.  But he’d still be thinking it even if he was too embarrassed to say it.  I have had numerous experiences like this where white people have felt free to tell me all sorts of racist things because it was winter and they had no idea I was half black or half anything besides white.

5) Does Billy Bob realize that  he is wearing a Santonio Holmes jersey, who is quite black?  Or is this just emblematic of America’s tradition (diminishing, but still existent) of embracing blacks as entertainers only (even Obama had to brand himself as “cool”), while fearing, dehumanizing and/or denigrating blacks in other contexts.

My reaction was sort of dumbfounded and as I looked around, based on the composition of the immediate 5-6 rows (white, lots of rednecky accents) I did not think an argument, let alone a fight, would be advisable.  But hopefully my letter to the Steelers organization identifying the date and seat numbers will ensure that these guys have a tougher time getting into games and will have to just watch games from the Aryan Nation Father-Son Sunday Brunch.

4th Quarter

My brother and I sat with sort of a vomity look on our faces, not really enjoying the remainder of the game sitting in the KKK box. 

As I sit writing this now I am reminded that racism is alive and well in America.  However, I am just as annoyed with people who would read this, be disgusted and outraged by such overt racism, while reassuring themselves that they are not racist simply because they don’t speak the same language.  The people who did not even flinch when he said “Tackle That Nigger” are the bigger worry to me and there are a lot of them.  Perhaps I should have hit the guy or started something, but it felt like a useless reaction.  Not sure what I should have done exactly, but I wish I could of thought of something more satisfying than just “be pissed off.”

Of course all of this could have been averted if the Steelers tackling was better.