PITTSBURGH - Remarks made by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a popular Pittsburgh anchorwoman have created a firestorm of controversy and may bring an end to the phenomenon known as BigBenMania. In an interview published in the Latrobe Evening Standard, Roethlisberger told WTAE newscaster Sally Wiggin that the Steelers were more popular than Jesus.
“Christianity will go,” he said. “It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and I will be proved right. I don’t know which will go first, football or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but he couldn’t play in the league today. And his disciples were thick and ordinary. They would never be able to grasp [Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce] Arian’s new offense, with the multiple sets and different formations.”
Within hours after publication, Roethlisberger’s agent, Brian Epstein, issued a statement claiming his client’s quote was “misrepresented and taken completely out of context.” Across the nation, reaction to Roethlisberger’s comments was overwhelmingly negative. Huge bonfires were set throughout the Southeast region of the country, as sports talk radio hosts encouraged outraged fans to burn their officially licensed Roethlisberger merchandise. In New York , NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters he deplored Big Ben’s “intemperate, ill-chosen words.” The Commissioner blamed Roethlisberger’s new girlfriend, a beret-wearing, chain-smoking Japanese performance artist, for encouraging this kind of behavior. “Believe me,” said Goodell, “The sooner he gets rid of her, the better off he’ll be.”