By TomE. Curran
DALLAS I want to be a role model, Ben Roethlisberger said at the Super Bowl this week. I want people to look up to me. I like when kids wear my jersey and stuff.
Can Roethlisberger ever hope to be that? Hope to be the guy that parents point to and say to their kids, Try and be just like him?
Hes trying. Really hard. But you cant operate on a torn and tattered reputation like an ACL. You can only rehab. And even then, the scars on that reputation will probably never go away.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the Super Bowl and Roethlisberger may win his third title in six seasons. Yet the fact that Roethlisberger started the season on a four-game suspension (reduced from six) because of an offseason incident in Milledgeville, Georgia and boorish behavior prior is a lingering embarrassment.
As much as the Steelers insist Roethlisbergers absence galvanized the team, as much as they celebrate his efforts at being, simply, a better guy, its hard to look at him and not wonder if his transformation came because of self-reflection or self-preservation.
Its hard to look at him and not wonder just what happened in Lake Tahoe, where a woman accused him of sexual assault in 2008. Or what happened last offseason in Georgia when he was investigated for the same thing. Criminal charges were never brought in either case, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodells suspension of Roethlisberger spoke volumes.
When handing the suspension down last April, Goodell wrote in a letter that Roethlisbergers actions in Milledgeville raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare."
Goodell also noted, I recognize that the allegations in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you. My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans."
Roethlisberger took the commissioners advice to heart. He has, at least in the minds of teammates, coaches and players within the Steelers organization, fixed himself.
Ben is a highly respected member of our football team, not only because of what hes done this year, but just as large, his body of work and the person that he is, said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on Monday. We all fall short of perfection, we all make mistakes. His are well-documented. Hes doing the best that he can in terms of moving forward with it, as are his teammates.
This week, Roethlisberger is having to face the music. Under the media glare of the most intensely covered game in American sports, he is gently poked and prodded about how hes different, how hes changed.
He stays away from specifics and introspection. He doesnt offer apologies. Hes in a move forward mode, which is understandable since behind him is a flaming car wreck that begs explanation.
Asked about his redemption on Monday, Roethlisberger answered, I think thats a great reflective question And the time for reflecting is probably after the year. I cant reflect now. I have to think about this game.
When pressed for more reflection, Roethlisberger said, You want to be a good person. You want to be a good someday, hopefully father and husband, whatever that entails . . . There are a lot of people you need to be a role model to. Its not just the fans on the street. I want to be, someday when I have kids, a role model to my kids as well.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert firmly believes that this new Roethlisberger is authentic.
I think over time, Bens proven who he really is, Colbert said Tuesday. We knew what he was as a player, but now everybody gets to see who Ben Roethlisberger is. Im not surprised where he is as a player or off the field. Ben Roethlisberger comes from a very good family. He was brought up right. Look, theres gonna be mistakes everybody makes along the way. But if you get down to the core of who a person is and you feel comfortable about that, they will come out the other side.
Its been interesting this season to measure the reaction to Roethlisbergers redemption against that of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.
There is, of course, no way to measure accurately who the public forgives more fully. But while Vick spent time in federal prison and Roethlisberger was never actually charged with a crime, there seems a greater willingness among people to at least forgive Vick.
Maybe its because Vick paid his debt to society in prison. But probably not. More likely? While what Vick did to all those dogs he killed and tortured along with his friends was mind-bogglingly evil, the image of Roethlisberger mistreating women is more offensive to our collective sensibilities.
That and the fact that because of the legalities involved Roethlisberger has only apologized generally. He said in April, I am accountable for the consequences of my actions. Though I have committed no crime, I regret that I have fallen short of the values instilled in me by my family . . . I am sorry to let down my teammates and the entire Steelers fan base. I am disappointed that I have reached this point and will not put myself in this situation again. I appreciate the opportunities that I have been given in my life and will make the necessary improvements."
Ben Roethlisberger cannot win this battle. He cannot unring the bell that was sounded. His suspension rather than serving as a sentence was actually just confirmation that he was a bad guy.
Whether hes still a bad guy whos now behaving better or a decent person who went way off the rails, the stain remains.
Roethlisberger seems to have come to grips with that reality.
Inner peace is a great thing when you have it, he said Monday. If you know what it is, I think you would understand where Im coming from.