Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mixed Emotions

You guys. You know it's Super Bowl Week, right? You know that all my favorite sports talkers (Dan Patrick and the Danettes) are in Dallas talking up the celebrities, attending Media Day, getting ready for the big game. You better know it. You know I bleed black and gold, just like all my fellow yinzers who are goin' dahntahn to watch the game and celebrate after the win, n'at.

As a kid, the paper printed a centerfold caricature of one Steelers player each Sunday. My brother and sister and I would carefully plaster this inimitable artwork to the walls of the staircase leading to our basement. By the end of the season, the stairwell was our own holy shrine to the Steel Curtain, our very own Pittsburgh-only Hall of Fame. Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Terry Bradshaw, Jack Lambert...we had them all. Now I've got Terrible Towels strewn about my house as if it's a known decorating scheme much praised in the world of design. My car scurries through town emblazoned with Steelers statements. You get the point. I'm tried and true.

This year I've been sitting on a very uncomfortable fence, stemming from allegations made against Steelers starting QB Ben Roethlisberger. His alleged sexual assault and/or rape, on more than one occasion, does not sit well with this feminist mother rabble-rousing Steelers fan. How can I stand behind a team that allows a suspected predator act as their strong armed savior? How does that square with what I want to teach my children about respecting oneself, that no always means no, that there is never a reason for such actions. How can I cheer when, by his height and strength and footwork, scrambles out of the pocket and finds my friend Heath Miller or Hines Ward downfield for a huge gain to win the game?

I'm torn between rooting for my team and throwing in the Terrible Towel in disgust. Allegations like these are hard to prove and even harder to talk about because of the celebrity status and money involved. It is easy to believe both sides of this story: that Roethlisberger is a total pig who needs to serve some time, or that these are women looking for easy paydays. These types of things boil down to he said/she said and carry the assumption of guilt for all involved. Public sports pundits want to wag fingers, cultural leaders want to advocate for tougher victim's rights laws. Spectators just want the game to go on.

In listening to sports radio, I've been disgusted at the willingness of men and women fans. We are all complicit, willing to keep watching the sport, to keep blaming the woman, proclaiming that "boys will be boys." All because we're uncomfortable talking about it.

But we need to talk about it. In light of recent proposed legislation to redefine rape, in light of a culture that's growing increasingly desensitized to aggressive sexuality, in light of our responsibility as adults, spectators, humans, to demand better treatment of our fellow humans. I applaud Terry Bradshaw for excoriating Roethlisberger and calling him to task for his inappropriate, possibly illegal, behavior. And if it's true, that Roethlisberger is indeed a changed man, when he gives praise to God on the winner's dias, I hope it's true.

But don't tell me you're a changed man. Show me.

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