Dear Mr. Rooney,
My first memories of watching football are with my grandfather, an inspector for Koppers up to his death in the mid 1980s. For him, the team wasn't just a great football team, or even a team from a great city, but a team that represented something great about America, something about hard work, and grit, forging something great out of something humble.
And in true family fashion, I rooted for the Steelers when Franco Harris got too old to hit the hole. I rooted for the Steelers when Mark Malone trotted off the field smiling after an interception. And when Kordell Stewart couldn't make a smart play if his life depended on it. I still have the black-and-gold striped scarf I wore to school during the long ignominious stretch of mediocrity, and the drive-for-five Christmas ornament that hung on my family's tree until just five years ago.
My kids, then three, watched the kickoff against the Seahawks with their grandmother, herself a die hard fan, and then we all watched again three years later against the Cardinals. I come from a long line of Steelers fans, and I have never ever had a single compunction about waving my terrible towel.
Until this year. Tonight, as the Steelers lost a good football game, I rooted for the team, but not its quarterback.
Last season, my son had a number 7 jersey that he loved. I couldn't let him wear it anymore. I had to explain to him that while Big Ben is a good quarterback, it turns out that he's not really a very good man. I cringed every time I saw another boy wearing one this season. I even asked one fellow parent whether he felt comfortable knowing his son was rooting for someone who likely assaulted women. He said he didn't. Let Ben go.
I know Ben Roethlisberger was never convicted of a crime, but two allegations of rape in such a short period of time doesn't look good. You let Plaxico Burress go for being trouble. You let Santonio Holmes go for being trouble. Who knows who else has been sent packing for being a distraction, for not living up to the team's standards. Let Ben go.
I could make an argument that you've already gotten the best out of Roethlisberger--that his value was always inflated by the great team around him (look at the 3-1 record at the start of this season with guys who couldn't start for anyone else). I could make an argument that you could actually get his value in a trade for, say, offensive linemen, or defensive backs, or draft picks, or really, a mediocre quarterback who doesn't assault women. Let Ben go.
Frankly, I wasn't sad when the Packers won tonight. They're a good team, built and run not unlike the team I've grown up loving. What I was sad about was that I normally would have watched that game in passionate agony--that a game like this should have brought out every impulse to pace and shout and grind my teeth and jump (just like in 2009). But my heart wasn't in it. I love this team, but I hate its quarterback. Let Ben go.
Mr. Rooney, my position on this is unwavering. Every year that Ben plays for the Steelers will be a year that you ask me to give up on an important part of my family's heritage. Because you will be asking me to root for a man who has done reprehensible things and gotten away scot-free. Because you are asking me to let my kids pull for his success. Because you are asking me to believe that the Steelers are willing to look the other way just this once. My plea to you, sir, is simple. Let Ben go. Trade Big Ben.