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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Big Ben's no angel, for sure, but there's no certainty he's a demon


Roethlisberger was one tough SOB in Denver, driving the Steelers into OT on a bum ankle. (AP)  
Roethlisberger was one tough SOB in Denver, driving the Steelers into OT on a bum ankle. (AP)  

DENVER -- I'm not comfortable with the deification of Tim Tebow, but I'm much more troubled by the demonization of Ben Roethlisberger.

And right there, I lost you. Right there, you're mad at me. Disgusted with me. The mere mention of Roethlisberger causes a visceral reaction in lots of people, and up to a point, I get it. He has been accused of sexual assault by two women in two states. That's ugly, and it has led to one of the ugliest nicknames in sports: Ben Rapelisberger. You can find T-shirts and even faux Steelers jerseys with that name on it, if you're so inclined. Lots of you are, and I'm not telling you that you're wrong.

Well, I'm not. But I am telling you -- asking you -- to not make me feel like I'm wrong if I decline to go along.

Where this story idea comes from is the playoff game Sunday. Broncos vs. Steelers. Christian soldier Tim Tebow vs. accused rapist Ben Roethlisberger.

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Good vs. evil.

Where this comes from, also, is where so many of my story ideas come from nowadays. It comes from Twitter. Specifically, it comes from a Tweet I sent during the game Sunday, as I watched Roethlisberger limp along on a badly sprained ankle, willing his team from a 14-point deficit, forcing a tie in the fourth quarter. As the Steelers were rallying, and as I was Tweeting my thoughts on the game, it occurred to me:

Ben Roethlisberger is a tough SOB.

But I couldn't Tweet that. You'd have crucified me for that. A compliment of Ben Roethlisberger? Can't happen. Not when he's playing Denver, not when he's playing Tebow, not when he's playing anybody. So I didn't write that. I wrote this, where I basically apologized in advance for daring to compliment any aspect of Ben Roethlisberger:

"You don't have to like Roethlisberger, and lots don't, but on the football field that guy is a tough SOB."

See what I did there? I watered down that whole Tweet. I acknowledged you don't like him, and then I clarified I was complimenting Roethlisberger only "on the field." Then I went ahead and complimented him, though I'm not sure why I bothered. By the time I'd apologized for saying something nice, and weakened my premise by noting I was talking only about what happens on the field, I'd ruined the whole thing.

After sending out that Tweet last night, I lost the next five minutes reading your backlash. You called him "Rapelisberger." You noted that he was awfully tough on coeds. You said you hated him, refused to concede anything positive about him. You said you were going to stop following me on Twitter. All because I dared to say:

"You don't have to like Roethlisberger, and lots don't, but on the football field that guy is a tough SOB."

So enough about you. And enough about me. Let's talk for a minute about Roethlisberger, and the presumption of innocence. Granted, this is not a court of law, and Roethlisberger isn't entitled to your presumption of innocence. You're allowed to think what you want, and that's fine. But so am I. And here I am again, talking about us even as I'm trying to talk about Roethlisberger. But that's where we are with Big Ben, because he's such a galvanizing figure. He's a wedge between some folks, and he always will be.

But here's what I know. I know Roethlisberger has been accused twice of sexual assault, but has never been convicted. Hell, he's never been charged. One of the accusations, I'm dismissing outright. The one in Nevada from 2008. No need to go into it in detail -- if you want to read more, I wrote about it here, in 2010 -- but police in Nevada declined to pursue charges against Roethlisberger after they were told by friends of the alleged victim that she was bragging about the possibility of giving birth to "a little Roethlisberger."

So that one, I dismiss outright. And I'm comfortable doing so. The other accusation, the one in Georgia from 2010? I'm not comfortable dismissing that one. Not even close. I don't have the vaguest idea of what happened between Roethlisberger and the alleged victim in that incident, but police investigated it thoroughly and declined to press charges. Cynics assume it's another example of a famous person getting preferential treatment, and that's one way of looking at it. I see it from another angle: Cops in Georgia would do anything to protect one of their own from some rich football player from Pittsburgh. If there was enough there to charge him, cops in Georgia would have done it. They didn't.

So there we stand. Lots of you on one side of this story, assuming Roethlisberger's guilt, and some of us on the other. And by "other," I don't mean people like me assume Roethlisberger's innocence. What I mean is, I don't know. I don't have any idea. But it feels wrong, given what I wrote in the previous paragraph, to turn an allegation that never reached the court system into an assumption of guilt.

This isn't Jerry Sandusky, is one way of looking at it. That guy deserves the presumption of innocence from just 12 people on the face of this Earth, the jurors who someday will hear his case, and thank God I'm not one of those jurors. Because I couldn't do it. I couldn't presume that man's innocence, not with the mountain of information available on those allegations.

There's not a mountain of information available regarding Roethlisberger and Georgia. There's a small pile, shrouded in darkness and alcohol and confusion. Maybe something criminal happened that night in Georgia. Maybe not. I don't know.

If it's all the same with you, I'll continue to write about Roethlisberger with that thought in my mind:

I don't know.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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