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December 19, 2010

Pro Football, the Steelers, and Elizabeth Seeburg

The Steelers and their ongoing employment of Big Ben lead me to write about football and culture and the death of Elizabeth Seeburg. (kudos: Infi)

First, let's approach an often-quoted theme regarding football in general and the Steelers and Roethlisberger in particular: the notion is that as long as they're winning, behavior doesn't matter. It's summed up in the saying, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."

The derivative of this misguided philosophy is that off-duty conduct, off-the-field conduct, and in fact anything that doesn't affect "the mission" is an irrelevant distraction. It doesn't matter that the police officer gets arrested for drunk driving or beating his girlfriend. It doesn't matter what the franchise player does in the off-season; what matters is one narrowly defined metric.

This sophistry is wrong in its failure to recognize the scope of the damage, and it's not applicable anyway -- because the Steelers don't win more games with Ben Roethlisberger. This year, they won 75% of their games without Ben, and 70% of their games with Ben. Even this mercenary, utilitarian justification doesn't withstand scrutiny. (see tables below)

It's irrelevant whether the Steelers win; they're a corporate, athletic entertainment franchise. What's relevant to the Steelers is their profits. Look at the Pirates, who have had several successful years making money while losing games because of their staffing business strategy.

What's relevant to us is the benefit/damage to our people, the benefit/damage to our culture, and the economic profit/loss of off-balance-sheet expenses.

Football (as we know it) is unacceptable because:
  • it damages the brains of the professionals and the kids who play it, and
  • our culture develops and tolerates irresponsibility among football players, whether they're professionals or six-year olds

Here's a few indications:
  • Steeler Heath Miller has missed two games because of brain trauma.
  • Football is the sport with the highest rate of youth injuries.
  • "It's obscene," Michael Collins, assistant director of UPMC's Sports Medicine Concussion Program, said of the number of young players seeking treatment for concussions.
  • See the story of Elizabeth Seeburg's recent suicide after reporting her alleged sexual battery by a Notre Dame footballer. (hat tip: Infi)
    • Consider the Oct.2010 death of Declan Sullivan, whose film platform collapsed during a windy ND football practice.
    • Consider the April 2010 death of Notre Dame football recruit Matt James
  • In this week's news, three Idaho football players were charged with sexual crimes; more victims are coming forward.

That's three 2010 student fatalities involving Notre Dame football. There are combat units with better statistics. Nobody's firing the coach; ND only fires coaches for losing.

The Steeler's keeping Roethlisberger was wrong because it perpetuates a culture of thuggish, violent irresponsibility. For all their reputation as a class act, the Rooney family had a chance to make a statement and they went for the money.

The travesty isn't Ben, it's the Rooneys and the Steelers, the parents and the coaches. The trend (and the damage) are bigger than Ben and Art. The blame for the glorification of athletes falls to the people that raised them this way, the grownups with their own agendas (who benefited from their prowess and status) and taught them as children that football players can live by different rules.

And what I really don't get is: people with wives and daughters dress their families in Steelers jerseys. Here we go Steelers, here we go!

A Comparison: Steelers Performance Without and With Ben Roethlisberger

Week 1: AtlantaWINNo Ben3 out of 4
75% WIN

Week 2: TennesseeWINNo Ben
Week 3: Tampa BayWINNo Ben
Week 4: BaltimoreLOSSNo Ben
Week 6: ClevelandWINBen7 out of 10
70% WIN

Week 7: MiamiWINBen
Week 8: New OrleansLOSSBen
Week 9: CincinnatiWINBen
Week 10: New EnglandLOSSBen
Week 11: OaklandWINBen
Week 12: BuffaloWINBen
Week 13: BaltimoreWINBen
Week 14: CincinnatiWINBen
Week 15: NewYork JetsLOSEBen
Week 16: Carolina---Ben
Week 17: Cleveland---Ben


wolfkin said...

I'm not statistician but that has to be a egregiously small sample size, to draw those sorts of conclusions.

I respect the rest of the article and you raise some very valid points that are for the record valid regardless of the math but 4 games to 10? If you look at it as a four game set they actually come out even. With Ben they have a 75% winning record by week 9 which is a four and four comparison. If you take the next four weeks it again comes out to the same percentage of 75% win each time.

Anyway regardless of the math you've produced some interesting thought. Cheers for that.

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