Roethlisberger's actions will speak loudest of all

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Two thoughts immediately came to mind after reading Ben Roethlisberger's much-anticipated eight-sentence statement Monday:

1) Never have so many waited so long to get so little.

2) Maybe it's a good thing Roethlisberger didn't spend much time crafting his statement, which almost certainly was written by one of his high-priced public-relations specialists and was released to the media via e-mail. So what if he didn't bother to read it in front of the television cameras, as Tiger Woods did in February when he started his comeback from disgrace? Actions mean far more than mere words, for one thing. Roethlisberger has too much work ahead of him to worry about news releases, for another. He needs to spend every waking moment on resurrecting his image, his career, his life, actually.

Today is hardly too soon for Roethlisberger to get started.

Isn't it nice to think that this is the final time we'll be talking about Big Ben before Steelers training camp opens in July? By then, hopefully, he will have gone through all of the evaluations and counseling sessions required by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who gave him a conditional six-game suspension last week for his behavior March 5 at a Georgia college bar when he was accused -- but not charged -- of rape by a 20-year-old student.

"I will not appeal the suspension and will comply with what is asked of me -- and more," Roethlisberger's statement read.

Satisfying Goodell will be the easy part for Roethlisberger.

Winning back his teammates will be much more difficult.

Sunday, on ESPN's "Outside The Lines" show, Roethlisberger was portrayed as a bad guy in the Steelers' locker room. Other players talked of him being aloof and feeling a sense of entitlement. That's exactly how former Steelers offensive tackle Marvel Smith described him in an interview with the New York Times last month.

Things were so bad in the 2006 season, according to the ESPN program, that former Steelers captain Joey Porter called out Roethlisberger in front of the other players at a team meeting. " 'It's like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ben,' " teammates quoted Porter as saying.

Since then, there have been signs that Roethlisberger has tried to be a better teammate, at least with his offensive linemen. Tackle Willie Colon was with him on that March 5 early morning in Georgia but wasn't accused of any wrongdoing. Last season, Roethlisberger took the linemen with him when he made an appearance on World Wrestling Entertainment's "Monday Night Raw" show in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. In the '08 season, he picked up all expenses for the big fellas to go to Chicago to celebrate center Justin Hartwig's 30th birthday.

Well, it's time Roethlisberger starts trying a little harder with his other teammates.

You know, be one of the guys rather than just the superstar quarterback.

Be there to be their friend and to take part in their lives and activities and charity work.

If that happens, the other players might even forgive Roethlisberger for putting their 2010 season in jeopardy by missing the first four games because of his suspension, which likely will be commuted from six games by Goodell for good behavior.

"Missing games will be devastating for me," Roethlisberger's statement noted. "I am sorry to let down my teammates and the entire Steelers fan base."

Ah, yes, the fans.

Roethlisberger has a really big job to earn their trust again. Many have said they are embarrassed that he is the Steelers' quarterback. Many want to see him traded or even released. Some are thoroughly disgusted by his abhorrent behavior. Others are angry that he won't be there for the team for at least those first four games.

It's not as if Roethlisberger can make things right with the fans on a one-on-one basis, as he can with his teammates. All he can do is start making better decisions with his life and stay out of the newspaper headlines.

That and play winning football, of course.

That, more than anything, will win a lot of fans back.

"This guy has helped us win two championships and he's made some mistakes, but he also deserves the opportunity to rectify those mistakes," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said over the weekend. "I know we stand behind his opportunity to do that."

Surely, Roethlisberger appreciates the support.

Right now, though, he mostly stands alone.

"I am accountable for the consequences of my actions," Roethlisberger said in his statement. "[I] will make the necessary improvements."

Mere words in an e-mail, right?

Everybody knows talk is cheap.

Roethlisberger's actions in the days and months ahead will determine if his image is salvageable, if he can get his career back on the path to the Hall of Fame, if he can get his life on a healthy track, away from self-destruction.

Only his actions.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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