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For those who thought Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer displayed a childish attitude in Sports Illustrated a few weeks back when he proclaimed "I hate the Steelers," wait until they get a load of what some Bengals fans had to say in the moments after Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident Monday.
As the news and pictures were posted on internet Web sites, some Bengals backers at Bengalszone.com made light of the fact that the Steelers' quarterback had sustained severe injuries, with many of them proclaiming that justice had been served. A few Cincinnati fans said in their messages that it served Roethlisberger and the Steelers right because former Steelers defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen, they contended, intentionally injured Palmer in an AFC wild-card game at Paul Brown Stadium in January.
"Irony, they cheap shot their way to a Super Bowl, now karma comes in," wrote a poster with the handle Spain.
Another poster with the handle jjakg27 wrote: "What comes around ..."
Cantonbengal posted: "This is what I been waiting to see happen to the Steelers they all laughed at us when Carson went down. At least, Carson isn't [stupid] like Ben ... hopefully he might miss some time this season."
The messages were posted in the moments or hours after the accident Monday when the severity of Roethlisberger's condition was unclear.
The ill will toward Roethlisberger and the Steelers was not confined to Cincinnati cyberspace. Message boards from around the NFL were filled with tasteless comments about Roethlisberger and the accident. At a Cleveland Browns fan site, TheBrownsBoard.com, one poster dubbed the quarterback "Ben Toothlessberger" and noted that he is now "right at home with all those Pittsburgh inbreds."
A poster with the handle flugel wondered: "who is wearing a bigger turban today? Bin Laden or Ben Ridin'?" Flugel also noted that "there's something about Steelers quarterbacks bouncing off hard surfaces that keeps this rivalry fun."
That was a reference to Terry Bradshaw getting dumped on his head by Cleveland defensive lineman Joe "Turkey" Jones at old Municipal Stadium in 1976.
Fans of the Baltimore Ravens also got into the act. Only moments after the accident, Revo2001 posted: "HAHA" followed by an expletive. A few hours later CRAVNRAVN posted: "Raven baby are now the favs to claim the division!"
So why do some football fans react in such a crazed manner in the wake of a potential tragedy?
Dr. Paul Friday, the director of clinical psychology at UPMC Shady Side, said the posters of these comments are people with psychological problems whose brains never fully developed.
Friday said the human brain does not fully develop until 25 years of age, which, he said, might explain why Roethlisberger, who is 24, decided to ride a motorcycle without a helmet. Friday said the posters are either too young to know better or are people whose brains never completely wired, which can happen due to a number of circumstances, including class and culture.
"The people who are blogging in Cincinnati, they're the ones whose brains never fully develop," Friday said. "They don't perspectivize human tragedy. They don't learn to think effectively. These people are not normal. We're talking about a fringe element. We're dealing with the screaming people who are venting. These are elements that are not representative of their communities. They are representatives of their own minds."
Friday said posters on Internet message boards hide behind their keyboards and write things they would never have the courage to say aloud in public. He said posters who write tasteless messages use football and the rivalries between teams as a way of getting out their aggression in a non-violent manner. It's not necessarily a new phenomenon, just one that is more evident because of the instant communication that is available via the Internet.
"We have a degree of transference on sports figures," Friday said. "It's a way of vicariously going to battle. People can blog and send thoughts, and feel a self-induced empowerment."
The Steelers' success also is part of the equation, he said. If the Steelers had not won the Super Bowl in February, people would not post such vitriolic messages. The Steelers are kings of the mountain, and their players are being transformed from humans into symbols, waiting to be knocked from their high perch.
"We identify with our champions," Friday said. "Maybe 3,000 years ago when we were still throwing rocks at each other, the Davids wanted to hit the Goliaths between the eyes. Every year now, we anoint a new Goliath. And we are the new Goliath after winning the Super Bowl.
"Our heroes are no longer humans. They're symbols. Ben is no longer Mrs. Roethlisberger's son or someone who is coming to dinner. He is someone who represents the wars that take place. And there are no bigger wars than the ones that take place in the 5 1/2 inches between our ears."
Correction/Clarification: (Published June 16, 2006) Internet forums for Cincinnati Bengals fans can be found at bengalszone.com and forums for Cleveland Browns backers are at thebrownsboard.com. They were listed incorrectly in this story on fan response to Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident in June 15, 2006 editions.
Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.