Thursday, January 19, 2017

Dear Sports Fans...Questions About Ben Roethlisberger and Others

Dear Sports Fans,
If you have a hard time keeping up with your favorite sports weekly, here's a tip. Read the "Letters to the Editor." This column, now known as the "Inbox" at Sports Illustrated is typically in the front of the magazine and includes the reactions, retorts and responses to article from a magazine that hit the news stand two weeks prior. These letters are pithy and penned by people from all over the U.S.; they make me laugh and they make me smile. The "Inbox" is a helpful resource, for the best articles will spawn much more than praise; they will elicit memories, spark creative quips, raise questions and well—make you want to put down the "letter" you're reading and find the source of such intrigue. Other articles will forcefully spew vitriol that is so toxic, one can't help but want to read what was printed in the past.  
This may be the only way to keep up with reading all there is in the wide world of sports. Good luck.
A slow but fairly disciplined reader.

P.S. I should make it a goal for 2017 to get one such missive into SI's "Inbox" and in print.
Writers and publishers know what they are doing: Sports Illustrated placed Steeler's quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on its January 23. 2017 cover for good reason. Not only is Big Ben playing in the AFC Championship game this Sunday, not only is the black and gold #7 jersey he wears the second most popular one in Iron City, but the article aims to address what its title suggests: "Why Ben Roethlisberger is the NFL's Most Polarizing Player * And What that Says About the Steelers QB—and You."

In what appears to be a nearly 5,000 word piece, S. L. Price writes 
Ben Roethlisberger has been good for nearly seven years now—good here being descriptive of public behavior, not morality, the way it’s applied to a heedful child or a docile dog. By all appearances the Steelers’ quarterback has acted like a cordial, civilized adult off the field, while on it he has proved to be one of the singular talents in NFL history. Whether that combination signals maturity—much less true redemption—is anyone’s guess.  
Beyond the telecasts, though, the chatter gets more contentious. Steelers partisans who don Big Ben’s jersey embrace a heavy brand of fandom. With the retirements of Ray Lewis and Kobe Bryant, the 34-year-old Roethlisberger is American sports’ most prominent polarizer, his number 7 as provocative as a question mark. And sooner or later, the ask does come.  
“He said, ‘Why you got that jersey on? You know what Ben did? You’re a woman and you’re wearing it?’ ” says Pittsburgh fan Lefifia Moore, 41, about a confrontation she once had with a man outside Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Not much of this introduction surprised me. The information, the questions and the reactions were what a sports fan could guess. I figured the forthcoming "Letters to the Editor" would offer two points of view: Camp Ben and Camp Rapist (sorry). What I encountered was slightly different. 
One said:
I was disappointed in S.L. Price's story on Ben Roethlisberger [Big Ben]. Price presented the quarterback's positive changes in such a way as to raise doubts about the legitimacy of his growth. Roethlisberger has been a model citizen, teammate, husband and father for some time. Why not give credit where it is due? —Rudy Popolis, Denver, PA
Part of me wanted to write a letter in response to the "Letter to the Editor," and then I realized this is what the comments section is for in an on-line publication. Even comments however, have their strengths and their limitations. Too often they are reactionary and dim-witted...but not always. The other part of me, having read the full article and this response, challenged me to consider all that Price and Sports Illustrated had to offer. I found the piece to be a fascinating profile of a moral and character development. Don't believe me, or Mr. Popolis, read it for yourself.

The other letter said: 

It is not up to a writer to decide if it is o.k. for fans to wear a particular jersey. Perhaps they are simply showing their appreciation for a player's efforts on the field. —Russell Newton, Essex Junction, VT
Mr. Newton's message resonates with a question that sports fans have to answer for themselves more often that not. From Tiger Woods to Johnny Mac, Hope Solo to Tonya Harding, Pete Rose to Barry Bonds, no sport, no team is immune from controversy and consideration.

And rather than respond to this important question....or offer some thoughts...I am going to punt (pun intended). No, I am excited to share that have a new contributor to Sports and Spirituality. Kevin Kennedy is a young writer and offered to take on this very question. His response will serve as the next posting.

In the meantime, as you prepare for Sunday's games, I encourage you to pay attention to the conversation that takes place about certain athletes. What is the popular narrative that the public offers? What does the media promote? Who do they protect. I'm a big Mike Tomlin fan (Steelers Coach), so I'll spend my time sharing with you why I admire him and his leadership. Enjoy.

Photo Credits

Big Ben and #7 jersey
Tom and Ben

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