Ben Roethlisberger won’t be prosecuted, and for that he can be thankful. If the distasteful details of things that might have happened in a Georgia nightclub look this bad on paper, imagine them being voiced aloud by a 20-year-old college student on the witness stand.
Not that the details of that night will end up mattering much to most Steelers fans. In the end, they’ll be more concerned with the strength of Big Ben’s right arm than the strength of his character, and a roomful of women coming forward with allegations of their own won’t change that.
Sure, they’re angry now, at least if talk radio is any indication. They have every right to be, if only because Roethlisberger is making them look silly for standing behind him when another woman filed a civil suit against him for what she says was a sexual assault in Lake Tahoe.
But it’s the offseason, and the calls for the Steelers to part ways with their star quarterback will fade as the reality of a new season approaches.
Soon they’ll be cheering with each snap he takes. They’ll keep cheering unless Roethlisberger does something really stupid — like throw an interception that costs the Steelers a chance to get to the Super Bowl.
The Steelers will get over their anger, too. They’ll give Roethlisberger a proper tongue lashing, perhaps get together with commissioner Roger Goodell to give him a four-game suspension to make sure he gets the message.
But don’t expect them to cast Roethlisberger off the same way they cut ties with Santonio Holmes. Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are harder to find than Super Bowl-winning wide receivers and the last thing anyone in Pittsburgh wants to see is Roethlisberger behind center for some other team in the division.
And then there’s the money the hardworking people of Pittsburgh have invested in No. 7 jerseys. Wouldn’t be right to make them find some other hero on such short notice.
Not to worry. Big Ben will be back, and so will his fans.
They’ll show up at Heinz Field in their Roethlisberger jerseys as if nothing ever happened. Might even treat Roethlisberger to a standing ovation to help put his troubles behind him.
We’re a forgiving country. And no one forgives more quickly than the fans who worship their sports idols.
We saw it last week at the Masters, where people cheered Tiger Woods like he was coming back from a life-threatening illness instead of a sex scandal. We saw it in St. Louis, where Mark McGwire received a standing ovation from fans who claim to revere the very game that he cheated and made a mockery of.
And we’ll see a lot of it during the NBA playoffs when Kobe Bryant takes the court at Staples Center to try and lead the Lakers to another title.
Indeed, you don’t need to look any further than Bryant’s own sordid case a few years back to understand just how forgiving fans really are. Bryant was also accused of forcing himself on a young woman, and the details of their encounter were equally as disturbing as the reports that came out of Georgia the other day.
Unlike Roethlisberger, Bryant was actually charged with a felony crime. That’s how I found myself in a courtroom with him in Eagle, Colo., where Bryant faced the possibility he could be playing basketball in prison for a long time.
I remember cringing as prosecutors laid out their case in such detail I could never look at Bryant the same way again. I also remember the dozens of fans who showed up outside the courthouse in Bryant replica jerseys to cheer him on as if he were playing the Knicks.
A few weeks later at an exhibition game in Las Vegas, I watched as some other fans climbed a wall to hold up signs welcoming him and proclaiming his innocence.
“The underwear tells the truth — Kobe is innocent,” one read.
Whether he was innocent only he and the woman who accused him of rape will ever know. The charges were dropped when she suddenly decided she couldn’t testify in court, and Bryant paid money later to settle a civil suit.
We may never know the full truth of what happened in Georgia, either. Based on the raunchy details in the investigative report, though, Roethlisberger should be thrilled that the only justice he’s facing will be dispensed by Goodell and the Steelers.
About the only thing we do know for sure is that fans will keep cheering for them both.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org