Jan 3, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) waves to fans after defeating the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 26-14. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Roethlisberger presumably played his final regular-season home game at Heinz Field on Monday night before an adoring crowd of Pittsburgh Steelers fans. It was a lovefest in and around Pittsburgh but also on the Monday Night Football broadcast where the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback was feted and celebrated in a way befitting someone who spent 18 years with the same NFL franchise and put up Hall-of-Fame worthy numbers.

One aspect of Big Ben’s legacy that wasn’t much discussed throughout the evening, however, was the multiple allegations of sexual assault made against the quarterback during his NFL career.

After being accused of raping a woman in a Lake Tahoe hotel room in 2008, that case was settled out of court in January 2012. Then, in 2010, a college student alleged that Roethlisberger raped her in a bathroom stall at a Georgia nightclub. Criminal charges were not pursued against Roethlisberger and the Baldwin County district attorney said at the time that they “don’t have enough evidence to prosecute.” Still, Roethlisberger was suspended by the NFL for six games for violating the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy, though that suspension was later reduced to four games.

Roethlisberger was never charged with any crimes but the allegations were very much part of his reputation after that. However, Ben and the Steelers put space between him and those headlines with sustained winning on the field and a legacy that tied him to one of the most storied franchises in the NFL.

Every so often we’d be reminded of the allegations, like the time in 2016 when Cincinnati sports radio station 700 WLW ran a tasteless “Big Ben warning” for women during broadcasts. But over time, they’d come up less and less as Big Ben aged into the role of an elder statesman for the Steelers and the league.

So, understandably, it wasn’t something we might expect ESPN or the NFL to want to shine a light on during a game meant to be a celebration of one of the most decorated quarterbacks of the 21st century. However, to deny that the allegations exist altogether is to call them out in its own way.

And it would have been one thing if the MNF crew hadn’t referenced them at all, but the way that Steve Levy, Brian Griese, and Louis Riddick verbally danced around them and soften their impact rubbed a lot of viewers the wrong way.

“Ben was immature at times,” said Brian Griese during the broadcast. “He made mistakes. And this fan base loves him and will always support him.”

While that last part might be true, there’s a flippant “boys will be boys” quality to the way he described sexual assault allegations that just set a lot of viewers off.

Referring to it as “immature” is also notable in that it’s how Ben himself referred to the allegations at the time.

The allegations also didn’t come up in an ESPN profile piece on Sunday about the entirety of Roethlisberger’s legacy with the Steelers, only noting that “at times, he was mercurial and immature, but he never wavered from his ultimate goal. He wanted to win…”

There will be plenty of defenders who will note that, again, Roethlisberger was never charged with any crime. You can also point to the fact that he’s tried to make amends through religion and repentance and that he’s done lots of charity work in and around Pittsburgh. Yes, those things are all part of his legacy, too.

But as ugly as the allegations were, they were part of his NFL story as well, as much as ESPN or the league might not want to discuss them. Trying to Streisand Effect them away under the guise of ‘youthful indiscretions’ only calls attention to them further, whether you like it or not.

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.