Sports | Sports Columns

COHAN: Teams should not be defined by bad apples

 The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of my least favorite NFL teams. With soft spots in my heart for the New York Giants and Detroit Lions, I obviously have no love for the Dallas Cowboys, the New England Patriots, or the Chicago Bears. But there’s something about my distaste for the Steelers that goes beyond team rivalries.

That something is Ben Roethlisberger. Although the Steelers quarterback has never been charged formally, he was at the center of scandals involving sexual assault in 2008 and 2010.

I have no words to describe how despicable I find him or how disgusting it is that, more likely than not, Roethlisberger’s celebrity status as an athlete gave his word privilege over that of the women who came forward about their alleged assaults.

But does this give me any right to hate the Steelers as an organization? I might think their quarterback is scum, but should I use that characterization to color my perception of an entire organization?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t seem fair, does it?  

On Friday, Spectator published its annual football supplement. And the first comment on the landing page referred to last year’s incident when, after a member of the team was arrested for a hate crime, it came out that several members of the team had posted numerous offensive comments on Twitter. Trolling aside, the happenings of the tail end of last semester are certainly on students’ minds and have caused many to question just exactly will happen to the football team this year.

I’m not trying to say what happened isn’t horrifying or unacceptable, nor am I trying to cast off the accountability of an organization when it comes to supporting certain types of behaviors. But people aren’t organizations, and they’re accountable for their own actions. So why are we allowing the actions of a few to color our perception of the many?

Maybe because it’s easy. After a nightmarish 2011 season and an OK—by Columbia standards—2012, it’s simple enough to associate poor performance on the field with poor performance off the field. And teams do a lot of things together, both at game time and otherwise. And yeah, at the moment, on the field, the only thing I can think to say to on football team’s performance is “Really? REALLY?” (And on the news that junior quarterback Brett Nottingham and senior defensive lineman Seyi Adebayo suffered season-ending injuries: “Fuck.”) But I don’t associate any team member’s ability to play football (or lack thereof) with their ability to be a good person.

More often than not, allowing the action of one person to color our perception of a group is a sort of generalization that does nothing but hurt us. Every individual is his or her own person, regardless of whatever groups or organizations she or he is a part of. Whether a member of the football team, Greek life, or a campus publication, everyone is different. Extracurriculars certainly tell you something about someone’s personality, but they don’t define it.

Saying it so simply doesn’t mean pushing aside stereotypes is easy. But that doesn’t make it any less important. Although some generalized judgments seem more harmless than others, we need to fight the ease with which we can write people off simply by association.

Of course, we’re going to meet people we don’t like. That’s just the way that life works. You’re not expected to befriend or even remotely like every person you meet. But we shouldn’t allow our generalizations to form stereotypes and cause us to unfairly judge others. Just because I find Ben Roethlisberger to be reprehensible doesn’t mean I should cast the entire Steelers organization in the same light. And just because you once had Lit Hum with an athlete who slept through the entire class doesn’t mean that’s the case for every other Columbia athlete. There are too many awesome people on this campus, let alone in this world, to let useless shit enter the equation and the relationship.

Rebeka Cohan is a Barnard College junior majoring in history. She is the staff development director and a former sports editor for Spectator. And One runs bi-weekly. 

sports@columbiaspectator.com | @rebekacohan

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Anonymous posted on

Did the hate-based assault take place? Is the perpetrator a member of the Columbia football team? Did tweets by several other Columbia football players contain racist and homophobic rants? Did they send out those tweets in solidarity of the perpetrator? Did the adults at Columbia get all busy covering their asses about it?

Are the questions above specific? So that means no generalization, right? Exactly.

Suck it up. Columbia.

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Anonymous posted on

Did the hate-based assault take place? Is the perpetrator a member of the Columbia football team? Did tweets by several other Columbia football players contain racist and homophobic rants? Did they send out those tweets in solidarity of the perpetrator? Did the adults at Columbia get all busy covering their asses about it?

Are the questions above specific? So that means no generalization, right? Exactly.

Suck it up. Columbia.

+1
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-1