Cook: Steelers' Roethlisberger takes step in reformation


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One day, a disheveled young woman, in a cold police interrogation room with her face blurred to protect her identity, is on tape accusing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of unspeakable acts and taking what didn't belong to him. The next day, a boyish-looking Roethlisberger, in a bucolic setting at his family's farmhouse, is telling KDKA-TV sports anchor Bob Pompeani that he never intended "to gain the whole world and lose my soul." Has there ever been more jarring, contradictory video? I don't know about you, I'm on sensory overload.

It's easy to imagine Roethlisberger as a monster after watching the tape of a 20-year-old college student telling investigators that he raped her in the bathroom of a Milledgeville, Ga., nightclub March 5. Yes, her statement, which was released Wednesday along with dozens of recordings by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, had inconsistencies. Yes, she admitted to being intoxicated at the time of the alleged incident. And yes, Roethlisberger was not charged with a crime.

But there's no doubt Roethlisberger's actions that night were deplorable. Can you say creep?

But it was a much different Roethlisberger who showed up on our living room televisions Thursday, not just on KDKA at 6 p.m. but with WTAE-TV news anchor Sally Wiggin at 5. These were his first, much-anticipated, sit-down interviews since the unpleasantness in Milledgeville. He was contrite and apologetic. He appeared sincere, although the depth of that sincerity won't be fully determined for days, months, even years and then only by his actions. He was especially compelling when he described himself to Wiggin as "immature, young and dumb," and said, "I've made a lot of mistakes and I'm sorry for them. I've done dumb things. I know that. But those chapters in my life, I've closed that book ... It only matters what I do from here on out, That's what I'm excited about, showing people, proving to people, the fans, my teammates, my family, the [NFL] commissioner, everybody, who Ben Roethlisberger is and that Ben is here to stay."

I'll admit it, I looked at Roethlisberger in a slightly different light.

It made for must-see TV.

It also was just a small part of what will be an ever-developing story that's going on hiatus for seven weeks and resuming when the Steelers report to training camp July 30.

Roethlisberger still faces an incredible challenge in getting back his good name. Let me put it in football terms: His situation seems much more daunting than the one he faced when he and his offense were looking at a first-and-20 at their 12 with little more than two minutes left in Super Bowl XLIII and the Steelers down to the Arizona Cardinals, 23-20.

Daunting, indeed.

Still, there's no question Roethlisberger helped himself with these interviews. Even the small details were just right. The golf shirts he wore were more appropriate for the moment than a suit and tie would have been. His hair was cropped, but he had a day or two growth of beard, which is the way he always looks. It was as if Pompeani and Wiggin showed up separately at his door and were invited in for a nice little visit instead of formal interviews that had been arranged by his legal and public-relations teams. He came across as relaxed as he could be, considering the humiliating nature of the questions he had to answer. There were none of the forced tears you often see in these sit-downs.

Roethlisberger was smart to do one of the interviews with a woman. He faces an especially tough task winning back many of his female fans. He also was smart not to duck any questions, the one exception being the big one -- what happened in that bathroom? -- on the advice of counsel.

Yes, Roethlisberger said he got caught up in the Big Ben persona and forgot about his Christian upbringing and the right way to treat people. "This has brought me back to being Ben Roethlisberger," he told Wiggin.

No, Roethlisberger said he doesn't have a drinking problem. (I'm not sure I'm buying that one.)

Yes, Roethlisberger realizes he let down his teammates, theSteelers' organization and Steelers fans by getting suspended for at least the first four games of the NFL season. He also realizes he let down the many kids who wear his No. 7 jersey and look up to him.

No, Roethlisberger isn't worried about his game suffering because of his off-field difficulties. "I love who I am on the field and I think most fans would agree they like that," he told Pompeani. "That's not the person who needs to change. It's the person off the field ...

"I know people may say, 'Let the actions speak.' Just give me the chance to show that you'll see a new Ben."

This was just a start for Roethlisberger, a small first step in the right direction. Actually, it was a little more than that. After the sad, troubling events of March 5, it was about as good as he could have hoped for on June 10.

Can Roethlisberger make it all the back, not just as a star quarterback, but as a decent, respected person in the community? I have my doubts, but I learned a long time ago not to write the man off.

You remember how Super Bowl XLIII turned out, right?


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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