“This last issue stepped over the line. It was also the culmination of other things that were hurting the brand,” Ballou said. “Some people will never forgive him, but he could do a lot of good. The stuff he does from here will be the benchmark.”
Roethlisberger by no means stands alone in the wide world of sports’ sexual scandals — real or imagined. Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, Kobe Bryant, Rick Pitino and Rex Ryan have earned their share of ink for postgame antics. Even though Woods’ much-publicized marital woes cost him a few endorsement deals, he still landed top honors in the 2010 Bloomberg Businessweek Power 100, a list that ranks the most powerful athletes on and off the field. Roethlisberger wound up 54th, with $10.3 million in earnings, thanks in part to deals with Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods. A Nike spokesman and a Dick’s Sporting Goods spokeswoman declined to comment about how their respective brands dealt with the allegations against the NFL star.
High-profile attorney Gloria Allred, who represented one of Woods’ mistresses, Rachel Uchitel, said, “A lot of media people are definitely starstruck. What they care about is getting the next interview and the next one and the one after that. They have to restrict their journalistic instincts and responsibilities in order to get the story. There have been so many changes in journalism. In many cases, you can’t even call it journalism. The celebrity press has become so dominant. Often women are the ones who get overlooked.”
Well aware of the quarterback’s earning potential, Allred said, “The more positive the spin, the more likely it will yield profitable sponsorship deals. It’s all about damage control. It will be interesting to see who wins — the press or the star.”
As Sunday’s big game, which is expected to be viewed worldwide by about one billion people, nears, Roethlisberger will have sit-down interviews with ESPN and Fox, and press conferences with less-athletically inclined outlets such as “Entertainment Tonight” and “Access Hollywood.” He and his rival, the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, will have the same number of interviews, an NFL spokesman said.
USA Today sportswriter Christine Brennan, who will be on assignment elsewhere Sunday, said, “If journalists ask him about it, it’s not as though they would be dredging up something that happened 20 years ago. We are talking about something that influenced Ben Roethlisberger’s season this year.”
The fact that he managed to bring his team to the Super Bowl despite the four-game suspension calls for further questions. “It’s not just a matter of asking him what happened, though it is completely journalistically sound to ask him about all that, there are other questions. How did he come back? What did he do during the suspension? How does he look back at the suspension now? What did he learn?” Brennan said. “These are very valid questions that I hope the journalists who will be there will ask.”
Asked if the bearded, hoodie-wearing Roethlisberger should step up his appearance, Tommy Hilfiger said, “I think that doesn’t matter in this day and age. When you look at quarterbacks, they each have their own look. [Tom] Brady has his look and Favre has his.”
While not up to speed about the specific allegations, Hilfiger said, “Distraction at this point in the season would affect anyone. I could tell you Michael Vick was possibly distracted, and I think Kobe [Bryant] was. I think pro athletes have to keep their focus.”
Roethlisberger’s former high school coach, Cliff Hite, said Monday, “Ben went through some tough times with that off-field incident that got him into trouble. What he discovered is that off-the-field behavior counts as much as on-the-field behavior. But he is getting it right now. The image thing is going to be something he has to rebuild.”
But Hite, a newly minted state senator in Ohio, isn’t about to dole out fashion advice. “I played football in the mid-Seventies, and our travel uniforms were pretty outlandish. We wore platform shoes, bell-bottom pants and had long hair coming out of the backs of our helmets,” he said. “As a coach, I would just leave it up to the kids. I would tell them, ‘You represent our team, so you figure it out.’ ”