Here's DeFord's line of questioning as it ran on NPR:
[A]t a certain point, don't you just stop caring whether our athletes - who for some reason or other are always called "role models" - don't you just stop caring whether they behave?
Don't you just want to say, "Let the thugs play"?
OK, if they violate the statute law, fine, put them in the hoosegow. But really, otherwise, why are we expending so much angst worrying about the character of our well-muscled celebrities?
DeFord isn't the first to accuse Roethlisberger of not "behaving" — Fox Sports's Jason Whitlock went so far as to suggest that the quarterback earned his NFL suspension not by raping someone (Whitlock doesn't believe this charge) but by "plac[ing] himself in a vulnerable position." But both writers seem to be plotting Roethlisberger's actions on a spectrum, from rape to some sort of vague misconduct. Really, things are much more black and white.
If Ben Roethlisberger had sex with a woman without her consent, he's a rapist. If he had sex with a woman who was too drunk to consent, he's a rapist. And if he didn't do those things, then he's innocent and doesn't deserve a suspension. DeFord writes that "Roethlisberger is a perfectly dreadful person, prone to reprehensible behavior whenever he is let loose from the sanctioned violence of the gridiron." But what is the "reprehensible behavior" that merits DeFord's opprobrium but somehow not our "angst?" If it's drinking and carousing, then DeFord's right — we shouldn't judge. But if it's forcing women to have sex with him, then he deserves harsh judgment, not because he's a "role model," but because rape is wrong.
DeFord may ascribe to the view that Roethlisberger's action fall short of rape because his accuser supposedly flirted with him, or because she wore a sexually suggestive pin. Or he may simply be wary of commenting too harshly on a case that seemingly won't go to trial. The latter makes sense — Roethlisberger hasn't been convicted of rape, and in part because of police mishandling of the case, we may never get a full accounting of the facts. It's fair to point out that Roethlisberger hasn't been found guilty in a court of law — but let's remember that what he's accused of is rape, not misbehavior.