Steelers' Roethlisberger seeking 'a new start'
Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger talks to the media at the Steelers' South Side facility Thursday.
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Ben Roethlisberger spoke words many longed to hear, even though there were not many of them. His delivery sounded sincere, humble, contrite, as did his body language.
The Steelers' quarterback took another small step forward Thursday when he spoke publicly for the first time since he read a statement April 12 in the team's locker room after authorities in Georgia announced they would not charge him with sexual assault.
He read no statements after practice Thursday. He walked off the field with Steelers public relations staff member Burt Lauten and headed toward a gaggle of news media estimated to be in the 40s on the field's edge. As some in the crowd pushed toward him, he politely asked them to be careful because one of the more petite of their group, a woman, might get jostled in front.
Roethlisberger then spoke briefly and followed by answering two questions before Lauten ended the interview that lasted two minutes. That was the plan; say something quick, take a question or two and live to interview another day.
Next likely will come the longer interviews, the one-on-ones -- Oprah? Larry King? -- in which Roethlisberger might bare his soul and provide more details of how he plans to change his life, which is something he promised Thursday.
"A lot of them are personal things, you know, which is just something that I need to do," Roethlisberger said. "But it's been neat being able to really re-evaluate my life and spend time with my family and kind of re-evaluate and refigure what's important in my life."
Two questions were asked; many more remain, including the most important: How do you regain the respect of fans? What possibly can he say or do to erase the memory of what police and others say what happened in the early morning hours of March 5 in a tiny college town in Georgia?
A 20-year-old inebriated woman, who had followed him from bar to bar, at first claimed sexual assault, then asked investigators not to pursue the case. Five weeks later, Georgia authorities announced they would not charge Roethlisberger with a crime, although the district attorney gave a scathing review of the whole seedy scene and advised the quarterback to "grow up."
Roethlisberger at least appeared to try to do that this week.
Since his return to the Steelers on Tuesday, Roethlisberger has seemed relaxed, genuine and humble while talking to people around the team's facility. He has apologized to some for being what he termed a "jerk" at times during his career and promised they will see a changed man from now on.
He has told people that he got caught up in the "Big Ben" persona and that he wants to return to the grounded person he said he had been before he allowed all of the NFL success to envelope him. He is said to be turning more strongly toward his religious beliefs as well.
The words sounded good Thursday, but only his actions can win back fans he has lost over the past three months, on and off the field. The big job, of course, comes off the field, where his reputation lies tattered. But there will be pressure for him to continue to perform at a top level on the field as well. Otherwise the amateur psychologists among fans, the media and maybe even his coaches and teammates will blame any below-average performances on his troubles and wonder if he will ever be the same quarterback they knew before March 5.
"I'm looking forward to the second chance and a second opportunity," Roethlisberger said Thursday, "not just in football because I think everyone knows what you're going to get in football, but in life."
The football part will be almost as intriguing to watch because he will go through an entire training camp, and then be banished for at least a month by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's decree.
Roethlisberger also has told people he plans to be more accessible to the news media and he indicated as much Thursday, ending his brief interview by telling them, "I'll be talking to you guys a lot more."
That was a small step for Roethlisberger. He has giant leaps remaining.
The Steelers have three spring practices left on the schedule, but really there is only one. That could mean the hunt for the quarterback to start the season is over, and may have been over long ago.
The organized team activity that takes place Tuesday will not be football, but bowling as Mike Tomlin takes his team on its annual outing. Wednesday, the team will practice at Heinz Field and Thursday, the last permitted practice, also bows to the Tomlin-era tradition of "hat day," in which players wear alternative headgear that can range from baseball cap to more unique styles, and usually includes a much briefer practice period.
Dennis Dixon has not practiced with the first team and it has become obvious Byron Leftwich will open the season as the starting quarterback. With the return of Roethlisbeger this week, Dixon has gotten more snaps and was No. 2 Thursday, but Leftwich ran the first team since minicamp April 30 until Roethlisberger's arrival Tuesday.
First Published June 4, 2010 12:00 am