By Mark Heisler
Given our worship of sports stars, as demonstrated recently in Milledgeville, Ga., the place to go if all your rowdy friends are coming over tonight, the standards for “role model” aren’t that high.
Winning is the hard part, but Ben Roethlisberger had that covered with two Super Bowl rings in his six NFL seasons. That would probably have gotten him in the Hall of Fame if he never did anything else—a likelier and likelier prospect with the Steelers now shopping him.
Drawing a line for Roethlisberger where none had been drawn before—despite a prior complaint in a civil suit by a Las Vegas woman— National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended the quarterback for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, which asks only that players who want to get laid get (a) a room and (b) undisputed consent from their partner.
The issue of whether the young woman in the scandal that broke last month consented remains in dispute, even though the Milledgeville justice system took a pass.
Nevertheless, posting two bodyguards at the door to keep the young woman’s friends out of the nightclub restroom where the alleged rape was taking place didn’t look good.
Oh, and the bodyguards were off-duty cops. What does that do for your old moral compass?
Not that anyone but Roethlisberger’s blood relatives minded seeing Goodell hit him with a six-game suspension that would be shortened to four with good behavior.
“Good behavior” means (a) no more incidents in bars before the Steelers’ fifth game on Oct. 17 and (b) no more complainants with similar stories surfacing, like the double-figures list of Tiger Woods’ former lovers who surfaced after reports of his affair with Rachel Uchitel.
On the other hand, if the Steelers were to trade Roethlisberger to the Oakland Raiders, one of the teams reportedly interested, that would do a lot to even out the score.
Imagine Big Ben repeatedly dropping back in the midst of all those advancing 260-pound linebackers with steam coming out of his nostrils, getting driven into the turf and thinking the same thing as he gets up, counting his arms and legs:
“If not for Milledgeville, I’m still in Pittsburgh with a running game, an offensive line and six seconds to throw the ball.”
This just in: Raiders say they won’t give up their No. 8 pick in the draft for Roethlisberger.
I guess it was too much to hope for, but I still have my fingers crossed.
There’s much confusion over this role model thing, according to the new cultural divide, but if we can argue over evolution, I guess anything’s possible.
Experience suggests, if these guys are role models, it’s only for the id, Freud’s pleasure-seeking part of the mind.
If you’re Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne, who interjected a sermon in his Masters welcoming speech, lamenting the pain and loss of direction Woods left his fans with, you’re wondering what happened to values.
Of course, if you were at then-Olympics honcho Payne’s 1996 games when he put events in the biggest possible venues, drawing the swarms that overwhelmed Atlanta’s frail infrastructure ... more or less what Lenin had in mind when he said capitalism would not only hang itself but sell you the rope ... you wonder who Payne is to be lamenting the loss of values.
In any case, nothing has happened to values, or at least to behavior.
If the conduct of sports stars represents “values,” there never were any, from the time the first single-celled jock crawled out of the swamp and propositioned the first single-celled female of any species he met.
Nowhere is the chasm between reality and perception more yawning than in golf, the suburban idyll that thinks of itself as God’s Sanctuary.
According to scuttlebutt among writers on the beat—themselves the envy of their departments in their genteel, well-mannered surroundings—there were always golfers who weren’t opposed to quickies with whatever adoring fan, or volunteer driver, was up for it.
Then there’s the old Sam Snead quote, revived in the 2008 movie “Body of Lies”:
“If you’re not thinking of pussy, you’re just not concentrating.”
It wasn’t Woods’ womanizing that offended traditionalists like former Sports Ilustrated great Dan Jenkins, but his aloofness from the press while peddling a warm, friendly All-American image.
Unfortunately, the first person who falls for the lie is always the jock himself.
Pronouncing Woods “graveyard dead” in Golf Digest, Jenkins noted the former greats “never set themselves up to become future statues in Central Park ... never sold themselves as the greatest Family Values brand ever, and conquered the marketplace with it, shamelessly scooping up hundreds of millions of dollars while saying, ‘My family will always come first.’
“They were never what Tiger allowed himself to become from the start: spoiled, pampered, hidden, guarded, orchestrated and entitled.”
As for the womanizing, let’s just say Tiger didn’t invent that, or bring it to the tour.
The old saying, the only reason men do anything is to get women, is a given in Jenkins’ books like “Semi-Tough” and “Dead Solid Perfect,” with protagonists like New York Giant halfback Billy Clyde Puckett and PGA tour pro Kenny Lee Puckett referring to women as “Southern California witch wool” and “Shapely Adorables,” among other things.
Of course, if former greats didn’t sell themselves as the boys next door, there was no one bidding for boy-next-door stories back then.
In the ’80s when Michael Jordan shattered all commercial barriers, it suddenly became important to be a role model, which meant ... ka-ching!
For all Charles Barkley’s indiscretions, he’s admirable for never copping to the Hypocritical Imperative, although he liked getting free money, too.
Barkley’s announcement “I’m no role model” is still debated by athletes.
Proving that one of its athletes can do no wrong or say no wrong, assuming he isn’t jailed, Nike, which has peddled more than its share of fawning BS, promptly made a commercial with Charlie saying, “I’m no role model.”
In other words, it made him a role model for saying he wasn’t one.
Nike just did a commercial with Tiger staring somberly into the camera, recalling lessons from his father. That was tasteless even by the standards of the unapologetic Swoosh.
Is it a coincidence or just ironic that palling around with Nike stars Jordan and Barkley started Woods’ relatively innocent head spinning on its axis?
The next thing you know, another generation was going straight to hell and Billy Payne was back looking for a role model to believe in.
(I’d pick a dead one—preferably one who passed away 50 years ago. By now it should be safe.)
Unfortunately, fallen sports stars aren’t the only threat to our kids. There’s ... everything else.
When my 16-year-old daughter was a toddler, I started her out on the classics—Elvis, the Beatles, the Beach Boys—quizzing her if one of their songs came on the radio in the car.
We filled her little head with political correctness, to the point of referring to Winnie the Pooh, “a bear of very little brain,” according to his creator, A.A. Milne, as “a bear of little experience.”
When she was about 10, I heard her tell a friend, “I don’t get rap.”
I thought, “Yessssss!”
About a week later she got it, up to and including Snoop Dogg and Eminem.
She now has a bare-chested John Cena poster on the wall and loves the MTV reality shows, another version of horn-dog sports culture, with real-life kids.
If I asked my daughter what the impact of the fall of Tiger or Big Ben on her was, she wouldn’t know what I meant, before or after I explained it.
I should add, she’s a great kid, does wonderfully in school and, except for her taste in popular culture, shows no sign of emulating MTV reality lifestyles.
In any case, it’s better to raise your kids yourself, inasmuch as they consent to being raised, rather than count on icons for help.
I understand that’s the way they did it in the old, old days when they got it right, sometime between the abolition of slavery and the invention of TV.
AP / Gene J. Puskar
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger