Team warned Roethlisberger; Police say QB had no motorcycle license
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger lacked both a helmet and a valid Pennsylvania motorcycle license when he crashed Monday, according to Pittsburgh police sources, but he did have a prior warning: The Steelers told him last year that continued riding might affect his contract.
A letter sent by the Steelers last year to Mr. Roethlisberger's agent put the player on notice that the team considered riding a motorcycle as a dangerous activity that might affect his contract if he were injured doing so.
Leigh Steinberg, Mr. Roethlisberger's agent, said there is no specific language in his 2004 contract that forbids the quarterback from riding a motorcycle.
"They did send us a letter clarifying the general language," Mr. Steinberg said. "But there's not a specific motorcycle clause in the signing bonus language. It does not lay out proscribed activity."
One proscribed activity for Mr. Roethlisberger might have been riding without a helmet.
State law requires people operating or riding a motorcycle to wear helmets unless they are older than 21 and either have been licensed for at least two years or have completed a motorcycle safety course approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation or the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
By passing the course, a rider automatically becomes licensed.
Monday's accident on Second Avenue near the Armstrong Tunnel remains under investigation. Police Chief Dominic J. Costa said last night that no decision has been made regarding any charges that might be filed in connection with the accident.
Most standard NFL contracts include a clause that forbids "dangerous activities" and it varies from team to team whether that clause details any of those activities or not. Some teams have gone to great length to do so.
The Tennessee Titans, for example, get "very, very specific" on listing what they consider dangerous activities, another agent said, including such things as falling off a cliff.
"It's crazy what they have listed in there," he said.
If a player violates that contract, it is management's contention that it can demand some paybacks in a player's signing bonus and, if it wishes, terminate the remainder of the deal.
That same agent noted that the Steelers' letter to Mr. Steinberg would have no effect on the contract since that is not what was signed by both parties when the deal was negotiated.
"But I promise you this," the agent said, "his next contract, it will be in there."
The Steelers likely will take it easy on Mr. Roethlisberger in the early part of training camp, which begins when players report to St. Vincent College on July 28. Until he's ready, quarterback Charlie Batch would move up to operate with the first team and likely start in the first exhibition game.
"That's basically what my role is," Mr. Batch said yesterday. "You hope it doesn't happen through injury, but at the same time, things happen that way. Regardless, I have to be ready. I'm one play from going in; you just don't know when that is. That's been my role the past couple of years here."
Mr. Batch, though, was reluctant to talk about his role because, he said, he's more concerned about Mr. Roethlisberger's health.
"I haven't looked at it as that," he said. "I'm just hoping he's fine. That's what I'm looking at. Football comes second. We'll see how it goes."
The Steelers have talked about possibly signing another veteran quarterback for training camp. While the most likely candidate might seem to be Tommy Maddox, released by them in early March, the chance is remote they will do so.
Vann McElroy, Mr. Maddox's agent, said a report that he had called the Steelers yesterday to inquire if they were interested in signing his client was wrong.
"I called simply to see how Ben was and tell them we hope everything is OK with Ben," Mr. McElroy said. "I think everybody's interest right now is Ben. It was not brought up whatsoever. It wasn't the right time at all."
Former Steelers safety Chris Hope, in the meantime, added more details to the talk coach Bill Cowher had after the news of Mr. Roethlisberger's motorcycle-riding preferences surfaced in May 2005 during the team's spring workouts.
"He stressed how important it was to be careful in your cars, let alone a motorcycle, during the off-season or during the time you're traveling around the city," Mr. Hope, who signed this year as a free agent with the Titans, told Sirrius NFL Radio. "I can't remember if he specifically said Ben's name, but I know he did say, 'I don't want you on motorcycles, but if you decide to ride one, please put on a helmet.' "
Mr. Hope, though, did say that at one point Mr. Cowher said, "Big Ben, I know you liking riding bikes but be careful or put a helmet on at least to make us feel a little comfortable."
First Published June 14, 2006 12:00 am