In his column yesterday, Dan Simpson ("Get Rid of Ben") asked how Ben Roethlisberger's "morally leprous behavior" would affect his ability to lead the Steelers. My answer to that is "not much."
Ben didn't suddenly become immoral in that bar in Milledgeville, Ga. He carried the same morals into that bar that he carried through the Steelers Super Bowl season two years ago. He was able to lead the team on the field very well then, and he'll probably be capable of leading a team just as well when he comes back from his suspension. Morals don't have much to do with performance in professional sports, which is the main reason why assuming that athletes will provide sound moral leadership so often ends in disappointment.
But professional sports, like it or not, are about more than on-field performance, and with this in mind, I don't disagree with Mr. Simpson's claim that the Steelers should get rid of Ben. Still, I would like to suggest that Steeler Nation's relationship with its team sometimes goes further than the "silliness" that Mr. Simpson allows.
There are drawings in Pittsburgh bars (I know of at least one that's still up) of Roethlisberger as Adam being touched by the hand of God. There is a Facebook site titled "Ben Roethlisberger = God." There are, in other words, plenty of ways in which Steelers fans have encouraged the idea that he can do whatever he wants.
Steelers fans certainly aren't alone in putting their star player on a pedestal, and none of this excuses his behavior, but if this latest transgression were somehow to result in sports fans (I include myself) putting professional sports in general into a more sensible perspective, then some good would come of it.