What Big Ben needs to do
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We can't get away from Ben Roethlisberger. It's all Ben, all the time in the news. Even when the Steelers were supposed to be off vacationing before the start of training camp July 30, he made a surprise visit last week to his football camp for kids at Mars High School, probably against the wishes of some organizers and sponsors who had handed off the camp to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin after rape allegations against Roethlisberger in Georgia in March. Then, later in the week, Roethlisberger was called out publicly by teammate Hines Ward, who said Ben needs to address the Steelers as a group about his off-field indiscretions.
There really never is a slow news day with Ben.
The camp visit was fine. It was another small step in the right direction for Roethlisberger, who needs to be seen in a positive public spotlight as he tries to rebuild his life, image and football career. What better way to do it than by throwing around a football with a bunch of kids? Certainly, some parents of campers didn't like it, which is understandable. But if Roethlisberger had even a few minutes to teach a life lesson by telling those kids that everyone is responsible for his or her actions -- no matter how talented or rich or famous they might be -- they could have learned something from him.
The call-out by Ward was a little more troubling. It's hard to see what good can come from it. If Ward has a problem with Roethlisberger, he should have taken it to him, not to the NFL Network. Going public with it is never the right answer.
This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened with Ward and Roethlisberger. In November, Ward insinuated to NBC that he and several teammates would have played in an important late-season division game against the Baltimore Ravens with concussion-like symptoms that kept Roethlisberger out. It became a national story after the Steelers were beaten by the Ravens in overtime in part because of an interception thrown by Roethlisberger's backup, Dennis Dixon. The defeat went a long way toward keeping the Steelers out of the playoffs.
In the furor that followed, Ward was quick to say his words were misinterpreted and that he didn't mean to question Roethlisberger's toughness. Still, there was damage done. "He reached out to me and I told him I was just more hurt than anything," Roethlisberger said at the time. The two appeared to put the issue behind them. Teammates don't have to like each other to play well together. Ward and Roethlisberger have been so good together that each appears headed to the Hall of Fame.
Now, that relationship will be tested again.
It is so unnecessary.
All Roethlisberger owes the Steelers is an apology. For putting the team in a terrible spot by getting suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for at least the first four games of the 2010 season. For putting each player in the uncomfortable predicament of having to answer questions about him, a process that Ward described as "tiring."
It is believed Roethlisberger already apologized to many teammates individually during the Steelers' organized team activities earlier this month. Just to be sure he didn't miss anyone, he needs to stand up in front of the players on the first day of camp and do it again. He has to tell them how sorry he is for letting them down by not being there with them for those first four games.
If that's all Ward wants from Roethlisberger, that's fine. But a more detailed explanation about what happened on that March 5 early morning in Milledgeville, Ga.? Roethlisberger's attorneys wouldn't allow it. Even if they would, there's no need for it. That would do no one any good.
The best thing Roethlisberger can do for the Steelers is show up at camp in the best shape of his life, be ready to play in the exhibition games and stay in that same great shape during his suspension when he won't be allowed to be at the team's South Side training headquarters for practices and meetings or use it for conditioning. Then, he must be prepared to start playing his best football when his suspension ends, presumably in time for the home game against the Cleveland Browns Oct. 17.
That's what Roethlisberger owes Ward and his teammates.
Not some explanation.
First Published June 28, 2010 12:00 am