By Tim Hayes
America is the land of second chances. Just ask Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart, David Letterman, Robert Downey Jr., or a thousand other examples. But when high-profile people abuse the reservoir of public goodwill, things can get a little more difficult.
We have a situation like this in my hometown of Pittsburgh right now, featuring the star quarterback of the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger. In 2006, he suffered a number of injuries after crashing his motorcycle – injuries that would likely have been less serious had he been wearing a helmet. In 2008, a woman filed a lawsuit alleging that Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her in a Lake Tahoe hotel room, and last week, another woman alleged that Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her in a night club outside of Atlanta.
This is a 28-year-old man who earns more than $100 million playing football – something at which there can be absolutely no question he does extremely well, with guts, smarts, an ironclad abhorrence toward losing, and two Super Bowl championships in four years. He is the “face” of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a storied franchise that since its inception has been owned by the Rooney family – legends in the world of professional sports who are revered in Pittsburgh for doing things right, with pride, respect for others, and a sense of fairness at all times.
Steeler Nation – the fan base that begins in Pittsburgh and reaches around the world – “bleeds black and gold” and supports the team in good years and bad. Ben Roethlisberger is the willing recipient of much of that love.
But he may have pushed his luck too far this time. You can be a great football player and a complete knucklehead off the field. Sports lore is chock full of brilliant athletes who behave like idiots in real life. Sometimes it’s endearing, sometimes it’s easy to shrug off. Then there are times like this.
It’s important to note that nothing has been proven in the Lake Tahoe case, and charges haven’t even been filed in the Georgia incident. Roethlisberger is presumed innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law. But I’m not talking about the law, I’m talking about using up goodwill and straining the limits of what your fan base will tolerate. Nothing good happens at 2 a.m., I don’t care how many Super Bowl rings you have.
The situation reminds me of what a high school social studies teacher used to say when the class would get to the point in a story from history where a tyrant gets his comeuppance or an event triggers a population to revolt. He’d stop, pause, look at the room full of students and say, “And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where the defecation hit the ventilation.” (Think about it…it will come to you…got it? Okay, let’s move on.)
His point was, people’s willingness to put up with unacceptable, offensive, or disappointing behavior is finite. This goes for political leaders, CEOs, entertainers, and as Mr. Roethlisberger may be about to learn the hard way, athletes.
A big part of leadership – and that includes being elevated to the forefront of your chosen profession – entails not regularly entering situations where you can end up looking like a jackass, or worse. (Are you listening, Kanye?) Even if Big Ben escapes these episodes legally, he would be well-served to take a good long look in the mirror and grow up. He’s had his second, third, and fourth chances already. There’s not much time left on the clock.
Copyright 2010 Tim Hayes Communications