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February 3, 2011

Super Bowl: Two Faces of Ben

CNN/SI calls Ben Roethlisberger chastened and humbled and runs this photograph to support the idea: a Ben that stares into the heavens, his mouth slightly open in awe, his eyes almost dewy.  But what remains is Ben’s wild playoff beard and the contradiction of American sports: redemption has nothing to do with addressing what you did wrong and has everything to do with winning.

Surely, it’s hard to be humble when you make the kind of money Ben makes and when your fingers sport clunky Super Bowl bling.  In fact, the picture is a sideline shot and what Ben is most likely looking at is a scoreboard recording another Steelers’ win and another step closer to the kind of general amnesia regarding his off-field activities that will sell more NFL gear.  After all, Ben said yesterday that he JUST wants to be a role model.

As Ben heads into Super Bowl XLV as a quarterback with an uncanny ability to win the big game, however, various journalists like Anne Killion of Sports Illustrated urge us to remember the accusations of sexual assault that caused him to be suspended for four games at the beginning of the year.

The photograph Sports Illustrated chose to run along with the banner announcing Killion’s article shows a clean-shaven Ben Roethlisberger (in contrast to the heavily bearded Roethlisberger that appeared in the Steelers’ last two playoff games) with head bowed and white towel hung from his neck.  This is the image of a penitent Roethlisberger—a Roethlisberger projecting a purified image.

Mostly though, the photograph exemplifies the contradictory impulses at the heart of American professional sports.  Grown men with specialized physical skills are offered enormous rewards that sometimes distort their sense of societal responsibility, while fans of all ages offer them a loyalty that ignores just about anything outside of bringing home the championship.

– Brent Cottle

Dr. Brent Cottle is a professor of Applied Arts and Sciences at Lethbridge College, Lethbridge, Canada.

(Photo 1: George Gojkovich/Getty Sports. caption: JANUARY 23: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on from the field before the 2011 AFC Championship game against the New York Jets at Heinz Field. Photo 2: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images, Caption:  SEPTEMBER 02: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers walks off of the field following the preseason game against the Carolina Panthers on September 2, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.)

  • thomas

    That’s a great read. It’s interesting how these sports — what were once were escapist pastimes, games, amusements on the margins of civic life — have become central dramas wherein we anticipate the enactment of moral struggles. I suppose an over-inflated, monumental and epic stage set before such a massive audience requires giant parable players as well. Ben couldn’t simply be just a dumb, shallow jock if he tried.

  • jonst

    I must have missed it. When was he charged with wrongdoing?

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