It’s a question that’s been posed to me in different ways for weeks (if not months) now.
“Hey Glenn, what do you think the Ravens should do to recognize Ben Roethlisberger and how do you think fans should react?
First things first, this entire topic is likely complicated by the part we don’t want to talk about.
There might very well be more Steelers fans at the Week 18 Ravens-Steelers game in Baltimore than there have ever been before. With the Ravens mired in a five-game losing streak that has all but eliminated them from the playoff picture, the potential for another week of a backup quarterback under center on top of a litany of other injury issues and rain in the forecast, this is not shaping up to be the most desirable game for Ravens fans to attend.
You might have noticed a number of empty seats for the Rams game and even more fans attempting to simply give away their tickets on social media. There are LOTS of tickets available again for this week’s game. It’s just that the difference for the regular-season finale is that there’s actually a demand for the tickets.
Just not from Ravens fans.
With this likely to be Ben Roethlisberger’s final NFL game (and a slightly better chance of making the playoffs), the interest in the product will come from Steelers fans. Not just Steelers fans who happen to live in the area, Steelers fans willing to travel for it as well. As a college freshman, I once plucked down about a month’s worth of
beer SODA money for tickets to what was supposed to be Cal Ripken’s final career game at the old (and awful in literally every way) Yankee Stadium, and that was to watch an AWFUL Orioles team.
We need to accept this now. There are going to be LOTS of Steelers fans in Baltimore Sunday. I know there are a good number every year (and a good number of Ravens fans in Pittsburgh every year), but this will likely be the most. And let’s not embarrass ourselves by saying nonsensical things like “this is why we’re bad fans.”
These are extraordinary circumstances. It doesn’t make someone a “bad fan” because they sold their tickets to someone who turned out to be a Steelers fan. Yes, it would be nice if everyone not going to the game could simply find another Ravens fan to give their tickets to. But it would be nicer if no one had to worry about car payments or making up for money they’ve lost during the pandemic, etc.
And yes, the number of Steelers fans who will be in attendance for the Jan. 9 game may well complicate the topic at hand.
Earlier this year, legendary CBS play-by-play voice Greg Gumbel attempted to praise Ravens fans by telling us that he thought they would give Roethlisberger an ovation in his final game to respect what he’s meant to the rivalry and the sport of football. And that suggestion earned Gumbel what you might call a “RATTIOOOOOOOOO …”
Ravens fans, to put it politely, disagreed with Gumbel’s idea. That wasn’t surprising. If Roethlisberger hasn’t been the most disliked athlete in Baltimore during the past 20 years, he’s on a very short list. The notion of giving such a player an ovation is a bridge too far for many Ravens fans.
But are the circumstances unique enough that such a reaction might be warranted just this one time? It would seem appropriate for the Ravens to use an early timeout in game action to offer some sort of video message to Roethlisberger saying “thanks for the memories” or something along those lines. At that point Ravens fans, before the game itself created any additional tension, could offer something between a polite golf clap and an actual “ovation.” The Ravens would have done the “right thing” for a legendary opponent, and the fans would have done the same for their rival.
“No chance I’m doing that for a rapist,” some of you say.
Let’s say the quiet part out loud first. Some of you don’t actually care about what happened in those (I guess we still have to say alleged) incidents in Nevada and Georgia. You use the allegations as fuel in the midst of a football rivalry. If for some reason there was evidence that proved Roethlisberger unquestionably innocent, you would still refer to him as a rapist. It allows you to be dismissive of a great athlete who plays for the team you don’t like.
Ray Lewis, without any SINGLE doubt, did not murder anyone in Atlanta in 2000. We don’t know that because murder charges were dropped, we know that because even the murder charges never actually suggested Lewis killed anyone. Yet how many times do we absurdly hear the Hall of Famer described as a “murderer” by the fan of another team?
I say that NOT to compare Lewis’ tribulations to Roethlisberger’s. It’s merely to establish a base of comparison for how football fans tend to treat rival players. Some of you will use past assault allegations against Roethlisberger as your reasoning for why you wouldn’t clap for the recognition of the player’s career. But some of you who say that likely also wanted to see the Ravens sign Antonio Brown when he was a free agent in 2020 or have been COMPLETELY unwilling to listen to a number of other allegations of abuse — perhaps even some made about Ravens players … or people you know personally.
With that said, the allegations made against Roethlisberger were both serious and surrounded by further questions. The handling of the Georgia case was, at best, poor. While neither resulted in a criminal conviction for the quarterback, they both carry serious weight. And if the seriousness of such allegations is the reason why the Baltimore Ravens decided they wouldn’t want to recognize Ben Roethlisberger formally or why Ravens fans didn’t want to offer a positive response to Roethlisberger in his final game, that would be a fair decision.
There is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan reading this right now and saying no so under their breath “that would be pretty rich coming from an organization that honors Terrell Suggs.” And, well, they’re not necessarily wrong. While the specific allegations made against Suggs were not the exact same as the allegations made against Roethlisberger, the nature of such allegations never being proven or disproven in court is similar.
I’m not sure that there’s a “correct” answer in either situation. And I mean that. I think the easiest thing for the Ravens to do with Suggs was to simply recognize that no charges were ever filed. I think the easiest thing for them to do is to quickly and politely acknowledge Roethlisberger’s career and the part he has played in a truly remarkable pro football rivalry.
Does that make it the “right” thing to do? I truly and completely do not know. I think it is important that we don’t avoid these conversations altogether because I think that hurts those who might want to come forward in the future. But this is a complicated societal issue that can’t be completely solved by football teams and silly sports columnists.
I’m guessing the Ravens will choose to do something to recognize the Steelers’ quarterback during the final game. And I imagine there will be at least some Ravens fans who will do the same in response. I also imagine that the presence of many THOUSANDS of Steelers fans in the stadium will create the appearance of a massive reaction for the future Hall of Famer in his final game.
It doesn’t make you a bad Ravens fan if any of those Steelers fans are at the game because you sold them a ticket. And it doesn’t make you a bad football fan if you genuinely can’t applaud Ben Roethlisberger because you’re honestly troubled by the things he’s allegedly done.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox