When the Steelers walked down the path toward their first preseason practice over the weekend, Ben Roethlisberger was greeted with high-fives from fans on the way to the field. The embattled quarterback said he had expected to be booed, but the cheers far outnumbered the negative sentiments.
It appears that at least some fans are ready to forgive and forget.
While there may have been fewer No. 7 jerseys than in training camps past, many still donned their Big Ben apparel and showed their seeming-support for the QB who will sit out at least four games this season for behavior he himself has called "immature and dumb."
Roethlisberger is on record saying he wants to "move on" from the accusation of sexual assault against a college student. Criminal charges were not filed in that incident. However, there is still a civil lawsuit pending against him stemming from a similar accusation in 2008.
America is a land of redemption; we tend to forgive people for their mistakes. How many times have we seen the rich and famous making tearful televised apologies? We've watched celebrities, politicians and athletes come back from those mistakes to re-invent themselves, find success and even regain popularity. Bill Clinton and Kobe Bryant are just a couple of examples.
But how quickly should we as fans forgive? And should we ever forget?
It seems like the road to redemption is paved with apologies, the willingness to take responsibility for one's actions and the genuine commitment to staying on a proper path. Repeat wrongdoers obviously don't get the benefit of the doubt we extend to a first-time offender.
But it seems like the sports world is taking its sweet time when it comes to forgiveness of late; just ask Tiger Woods and Michael Vick about the court of public opinion.
Still, there are those who would argue that what athletes do off the field is irrelevant; quarterbacks aren't paid to be angels, but rather to play football; what's really important is winning.
But how can a team achieve success with the constant distraction of off-field drama? How do you trust a leader with the future of your franchise who you can't trust with your sister?
Roethlisberger has had more than his share of second chances, and it will take more than winning to get back into many fans' good graces.
It seems like the public should punish Ben at least through his suspension; his earliest return to game action could be mid-October if Commissioner Goodell applies the lower end of the penalty.
For some black and gold faithful, it will take more than autographs and photographs at training camp to get back into our good graces. It will take some winning actions away from the football field.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie@BedfordCountyChamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.