Roethlisberger faces battery of tests

Interviews would be used to assess his personality, determine course of treatment

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Embattled Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will undergo a series of interviews and psychological testing to assess his personality traits, cognitive abilities and neuropsychological fitness as part of a comprehensive behavioral evaluation ordered Wednesday by National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The goal is to determine the extent to which Mr. Roethlisberger's violation of the league's Personal Conduct Policy during a night of bar-hopping in Milledgeville, Ga., was attributable to some underlying psychological, behavioral or neuropsychological disorder, and to map out a plan for intervention, psychologists say.

Whether a positive change occurs will primarily depend upon Mr. Roethlisberger because, like any other person undergoing such an evaluation and treatment, he must commit himself to the process, said John F. Murray, a licensed clinical and sports psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla.

"If you close your mind to it, you are not going to have any ability to make changes," said Dr. Murray, who is not involved in Mr. Roethlisberger's evaluation but has had professional athletes as clients. "The client has to make a commitment. No one can treat someone who is passive, who says, 'Fix me, doctor.' "

Dr. Murray said sometimes clients ordered to undergo evaluations by the courts or businesses, as opposed to seeking help themselves, are initially reluctant to comply with treatment. But, he said, "If you're a good clinician and the client isn't a jerk," the process works "because they see you are trying to help them help themselves" to avoid further professional and personal decline.

Successful completion of the evaluation and therapy is key to Mr. Roethlisberger's return to the football field. Until then, he will not be able to participate in any team activity. And only then will he begin his suspension for six regular season games. Mr. Goodell said he would consider reducing the suspension to four games depending upon the quarterback's progress in dealing with what he described as disturbing behavior.

Mr. Roethlisberger was accused of raping a drunken 20-year-old woman in a club bathroom, but Georgia authorities said they would not prosecute because they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the felony had been committed. Nevertheless, Mr. Goodell said Mr. Roethlisberger violated the league's conduct policy by buying alcohol for that woman and other underage women.

"Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare," Mr. Goodell wrote in the letter to Mr. Roethlisberger announcing the discipline.

"I believe it is essential that you take full advantage of the resources available to you. My ultimate disposition in this matter will be influenced by the extent to which you do so, what you learn as a result, and a demonstrated commitment to making positive change in your life."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said medical professionals retained by the league would perform the evaluation. The NFL will have full access to the findings and recommendations in order to determine Mr. Roethlisberger's compliance.

Dr. Murray said there was no standard behavioral evaluation that psychologists and psychiatrists utilize. Depending upon the professional evaluator, different tests may be utilized and different approaches may be taken. Despite all of that variance and regardless of who was doing the testing, he said, the end result would likely be the same.

"You could have five people taking five different approaches, but I would bet money if you read those five reports there would be a pretty solid concurrence of findings," he said.

Generally speaking, he said, the evaluation process would begin with an interview of an hour or two.

"There will be questions about developmental history, about problems in the past and how he's dealt with difficult situations like he has been engaged in recently."

During the process, "they also will be keenly observing his behavior, how he responds to different inquiries, his overall demeanor, what his overall status is like. How is his memory? Is his speech fast or slow, with affect or without affect, with emotion? Is this a person with any indication of thought disorder?"

He said neuropsychological testing would probably be used to determine if there was any damage to Mr. Roethlisberger's frontal lobe, known as a human's emotional control center, because, among other functions, it controls judgment, impulse control and social and sexual behavior. Such testing would be apropos given Mr. Roethlisberger's 2006 motorcycle accident when he wasn't wearing a helmet, concussions he has suffered during his playing days and allegations of his behavior in Georgia.

Additionally, as part of the "psychosocial evaluation," the professionals would seek to determine if Mr. Roethlisberger is suffering from alcohol or any other kind of substance abuse, Dr. Murray said.

Following that assessment, the psychologist or psychiatrist performing the evaluation would analyze the findings and then, if warranted, recommend treatment, such as social skills training, cognitive behavioral psychotherapy or stress management, among others.

He said treatment of superstar athletes and others of that ilk has similarities with and differences from treatment of the average person.

"Everybody is human, everyone has the same basic elements and the same human needs," he said. "But with celebrities, CEOs and professional athletes, there has been a lot of a sense of entitlement. They have been nurtured and told they can do anything along the way. So you've got to be aware of that."


Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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