The whole Cedric Benson thing has got me thinking, or more accurately re-thinking, about the issue of whether or not it’s reasonable for pro athletes to be held to the standards that they are by the public and media. Of course, there are lots of issues that dovetail here. Opinions are like Kiss albums, every one has one or two and they all suck, and that you can’t control. But isn’t it self-defeating to expect a 25 year old millionaire to be a “role model” just because he’s a professional athlete?
The reason I add “just because he’s a professional athlete” is that we don’t seem to hold other entertainers to such a standard--and yes, professional sports are a form of entertainment. Of course, “standards” can vary, but if a music star gets in a bar fight, has promiscuous sex with fans, tears up a hotel room, and is later arrested for drug possession, their CD sales sky rocket. Pro-athletes? Controversy swirls and suspensions fly. And, ironically, as much attention that is brought to the missteps of pro-athletes, their arrest rate is actually lower than the general population, controlling for gender.
Keep in mind, I’m not defending any of these actions, I’m just pointing out a curious double standard as well as the misconception that pro-athletes are “out of control.”
Of course there are some obvious differences. Pro-athletes are employees of the team and indirectly the NFL, whereas most actors and musicians are essentially independent contractors, negotiating deals in exchange for completion of a particular project (a movie/CD, etc) and NFL is obviously image conscious. But I don’t think is really the issue because if the fans didn’t care, I don’t think the NFL would either. That was the reason that Ben got suspended for his actions despite not being charged with anything. Women are the biggest growing fan base in the NFL and Ben was caught multiple times being a tool-bag to his female following. As much as I deplore the actions of Roethlisberger, (honestly, I live in Pittsburgh and I've never heard a female who met Roethlisberger who thought it was good experience), I did find the punishment curious and believe it to be more about PR than anything else.
Similarly, with Cedric Benson. The incident sounds like a relativey minor scuffle but I could see Goodell feeling pressure to "make an example"--particularly with a guy who has some "priors."