The League

Kent Babb
Chiefs Beat Writer

Kent Babb

A Chiefs and sports features writer at the Kansas City Star

ESPN Choked

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Ben Roethlisberger should've known this was coming. When he signed that $102 million contract last year, he should have known the sharks would be circling.

It might not be fair or legitimate or deserved. But it is news. ESPN made a mistake, Tuesday, by pretending that the allegations that Roethlisberger sexually assaulted a woman weren't worthy of a report. Citing policy, ESPN is hiding behind a moral force field that, it would often suggest, is a shield against inaccuracies and rumors. Roethlisberger's attorney has acknowledged the accusations and is denying the validity of the woman's accusation, saying that the lack of a criminal complaint suggests the allegations are bogus. But he did acknowledge them, which is more than ESPN was willing to do. It was irresponsible for the nation's sports voice of record to ignore that one of the NFL's most decorated and richest stars is at the center of a scandal.

For now, that's all this is. But that is news. Ask Kobe Bryant or the Brazilian soccer star Robinho if the media held back on accusations of sexual misconduct. Roethlisberger is becoming the stubbled face of the NFL, with more Super Bowl wins in the past five years than any NFL quarterback and, at least until Tom Brady returns from last year's season-ending knee injury, the league's best big-game passer. He has an 8-2 playoff record. More than that, he's a celebrity with a fat contract and a load of everyman appeal. He also plays for what arguably is the NFL's most passionate and wide-ranging fan base.

I tuned in Sunday afternoon to watch Roethlisberger make a putt at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe. Reports suggest that it was during the same golf tournament in 2008 that the alleged assault took place. On the final round of this year's golf tournament, Roethlisberger strolled around the course, giving out footballs, signing clothing and speaking into microphones because that's what sports celebrities do in 2009. They don't just practice and play, they sell an image and they're paid accordingly. ESPN, the organization that is ignoring a reported civil suit against one of the NFL's biggest stars, has helped fuel this culture. Sports celebrities are many things, but private isn't one of them.

Roethlisberger might have known that something like this would happen. He's a national superstar and, yes, a target. This won't be the last time Big Ben is accused of something. The next time, like this time, might turn out to be false. But it's not up to a news organization to decide, only to report.

By Kent Babb  |  July 22, 2009; 7:05 AM ET  | Category:  Crime , Pittsburgh Steelers Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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