Roethlisberger, at very least, has been guilty of serial bad judgment
Ben Roethlisberger showed maturity on the field early in his career
Off the field, Roethlisberger continues to make very poor decisions
Big Ben is playing by his own rules and might believe he's bullet-proof
The irony is once upon a time we were all so taken with Ben Roethlisberger's maturity level. Remember when he first took the field as a Pittsburgh Steelers rookie in 2004 and made everything look so easy, almost effortless? It was as if he had been there and done that, even though we knew he hadn't. For an NFL novice, Big Ben seemed years ahead of the curve in the process of winning his first 14 starts that season, setting an almost-impossible-to-beat new standard for rookie quarterback success stories.
But alas, first impressions don't always stand the test of time. The just-turned-28-year-old Roethlisberger we contemplate today isn't being celebrated much any more for his unique blend of on-field maturity, wisdom and judgment. Instead, we're questioning who he is as a person away from football, what's in his character, and what he might be capable of doing when his behavior is at its worst.
We don't know if Roethlisberger is guilty of committing sexual assault, as he now has been accused of for a second time in less than nine months. Short of any proof, this is the part of the story where I'm obligated to talk about due process running its course, the concept of innocent until proven guilty, and warn about the dangers of rushing to judgment against a person who has not been charged with any crime in either case.
But with that out of the way, here's what I think we do know about Roethlisberger at this point: At the very least, he's starting to look very guilty of serial bad judgment. He doesn't seem to know what's good for him, and he clearly doesn't respect the notion that there are boundaries of where he should be, when he should be there, and who he should be with.
It doesn't take a DNA test to know that Roethlisberger is young, single and likes to party. None of that is against the law, and didn't we all help make a late-night legend out of another rust-belt-born quarterback, Joe Namath, for doing the exact same thing about 40 years ago? But if I've been falsely accused of arson in the recent past, I'm going to stop playing with matches for a while. I'm going to make sure that the wrong perception about me that might exist out there isn't reinforced or perpetuated in any way.
If I'm Roethlisberger, who's still facing last year's civil suit alleging he sexually assaulted a Lake Tahoe, Nev., casino hostess in the summer of 2008, that means I'm swearing off hanging out in college-town bars until 2 a.m., making the frat-boy rounds with my entourage. Engaging groups of college-age women while out partying isn't helpful either. Quite a sacrifice, I know, but, hey, there is a pretty fair career to think of in this case. Not to mention a reputation that is rapidly approaching the state of being irreparably damaged.
You might think that every pro athlete in this day and age watched the self-destructive Tiger Woods saga unfold in the media, shuddered twice, and saw it as a cautionary tale when it comes to the excesses of fame and celebrity and the price they can exact. Woods is married and Roethlisberger is not, so the same standards don't apply, but then, no one has accused Tiger of sexual assault either.
I don't know exactly when a pattern of behavior shows itself to the point of becoming obvious, but I think by now it's safe to say Roethlisberger either doesn't get it or doesn't care. You think it can't all go away pretty quickly in a hail of bad decision-making, Ben? Talk to Michael Vick about that one. One day he was practically the young and fresh face of the NFL, and the next time we looked, he was the poster child for wasted opportunity.
If NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made anything clear in his almost four-year tenure, it's that if you keep putting yourself in situations where you can be accused of wrong-doing -- even falsely in some cases -- you still bear some of the blame for creating the environment that led to the trouble. Once is an accident and twice is a trend is roughly Goodell's rule of thumb. The commish is very, very big on representing the NFL shield, and he doesn't give it just the lip-service routine.
When you add Roethlisberger's 2006 helmet-less motorcycle accident into the mix of questionable decision-making, this is the third offseason in five years the Pittsburgh quarterback has made the wrong kind of headlines and given us reason to question his thinking, his actions, or both. That's at least twice too many for any player, but particularly for one who carries the mantle of franchise quarterback for one of the most successful and beloved organizations in the NFL.
Whether he likes it or not, Roethlisberger is the face of the Steelers franchise. And these days, that face is not a very attractive one for Pittsburgh to put out there front and center. Some might say the captain's "C'' on his jersey now stands for "cad.'' In a statement Monday, Steelers president Art Rooney II said the team is "concerned about the recent incident'' involving Roethlisberger, and will continue to "closely monitor the situation.''
The problem is, the Steelers can't monitor Roethlisberger as closely as they need to, even though they shouldn't have to. He's apparently going to keep playing by his own rules, and going wherever he pleases, until he perhaps learns his lesson the hard way. And if he thinks it can't happen, it almost assuredly will.
As it turns out, maybe all that acclaim and success so early in his NFL career, the 14-1 rookie year and two Super Bowl rings in his first five seasons, served to make Roethlisberger believe he's bullet-proof. He wouldn't be the first star athlete to think the rules didn't apply, and to find out only too late that some of them most definitely do.
Roethlisberger's maturity level has again caught our attention and made us notice him anew. The twist this time is that his on-field judgment and responsibility has now been overshadowed by his off-field recklessness and lack of foresight. The lesson here seems simple, Ben: Sometimes trouble finds you. Sometimes you find the trouble. Either way, it's trouble all the same.
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