Big Ben failed to heed warnings
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If one good thing comes out of yesterday's motorcycle accident involving Ben Roethlisberger, it will be that the quarterback heeds the advice he has been getting for the past year, associates said.
"Obviously, he may have to rethink his philosophy on riding the bike," former teammate Jerome Bettis said.
From Terry Bradshaw to Bill Cowher to concerned teammates, no one was willing to say "I told you so" after Roethlisberger was injured while riding his motorcycle without a helmet. But the accident is one they feared might happen.
Bradshaw, the Steelers' Hall of Fame quarterback, repeatedly raised concerns about Roethlisberger's insistence on riding without a helmet, publicly offering this advice at training camp last summer: "Ride it when you retire. That's the way I feel. Those things are dangerous."
His statements have caused some friction between him and Roethlisberger, but Bradshaw yesterday would only say, through a spokesman, that "I hope he's going to be OK."
Cowher, who was not at the Steelers' offices, was unavailable for comment, but he was the first to raise an issue when reports surfaced last year that his young quarterback rode motorcycles without a helmet.
The Steelers' coach had a talk with Roethlisberger on May 6, 2005, about "choices and consequences."
"I certainly don't condone that," Cowher said then of the helmetless riding. "We talked about it this morning."
Cowher, alluding to last year's motorcycle accident that injured Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow, told Roethlisberger that day, "It's a very small time in your life, you've got to be very careful, you can see it documented with Kellen Winslow in Cleveland.
"There are choices and consequences, there's a lot of scrutiny and, at times, some sacrifices every player has to make -- not just in riding motorcycles, but going out and where you go out and who you associate with.
"You have control over them, but once you make your decision, they control you. The sacrifices they make, while they may seem a lot, they're well worth it."
Roethlisberger responded at the time that he would continue to ride his motorcycle sans helmet.
"It's a choice," he said. "I just get out there and relax, I don't try to take too many risks, I just go out and enjoy myself."
Roethlisberger even celebrated his motorcycle image, posing for photos that he autographed that are for sale online through a company called Mounted Memories, which is licensed by the NFL. A photo of Roethlisberger sitting on his motorcycle with his baseball cap turned backwards was selling for $260 on the Web site yesterday.
Bettis said he never warned Roethlisberger about not wearing a helmet because enough others were doing so.
"I felt he'd do what's necessary to make sure something crazy doesn't happen," Bettis said. "In that way it was kind of unsaid. Obviously, that's his choice. It's hard to say don't do it.
"Obviously, riding a motorcycle is dangerous enough, but that's something he enjoys. Now he's going to find a way to realize it may not be in his best interests to be on a motorcycle. Maybe you wait until your career's over, maybe you wait until you're in a more friendly environment to ride a motorcycle. Those are some of the things he's going to have to look at it."
The standard NFL player contract forbids certain "other activities" that players must avoid, such as skydiving. The Steelers could take the position that riding a motorcycle without a helmet is one of those activities and try to force Roethlisberger to give back some of his signing bonus and deny him his salary if he is unable to play.
All-Pro guard Alan Faneca said he also rides a motorcycle, although he wears a helmet.
"Definitely, you have to be aware and you have to look out for other people driving badly, not just you driving good but others," he said. "It's a big responsibility."
As with Bettis, Faneca said he never spoke to Roethlisberger about not wearing a helmet when he rode.
"When that whole big deal came out last time I think he heard it from every angle and I didn't talk to him about it."
Bettis hopes that yesterday's accident will serve as a lesson not only to Roethlisberger, but to players throughout the NFL.
"It's definitely a wake-up call," he said. "You hope that everybody, not only Ben, but all the young guys around the league as well look at this and learn a lesson from this. Fortunately, the lesson doesn't have to cost someone's life or career. It's a lesson they can learn without devastating consequences associated with that."
First Published June 13, 2006 12:00 am