The latest buzz with Ben Roethlisberger is the announcement that he and his wife Ashley are expecting their first child, a boy. This news is one of many signs that the Steelers quarterback has finally left his troubled days of partying and bad decisions behind, and hopefully for good. While Roethlisberger has been the ideal QB for the Steelers in game situations since his rookie season, his off-the-field behavior has left much to be desired.
I’m not interested in yet another debate about what really happened in Milledgeville, Georgia when Big Ben hosted his friends for the annual “Benapalooza” birthday celebration in March 2010. The DA decided there wasn’t adequate evidence to bring charges and the case was closed, but the damage was done. The Rooneys, furious with the PR debacle, told Commisioner Goodell that THEY recommended suspending the franchise QB. Their next move was trading Superbowl MVP Santonio Holmes, who was creating off-the-field trouble of his own yet again, to the Jets for a pittance, a 5th round draft pick. This was clearly a message to Roethlisberger that no player was too talented to be kicked to the curb.
Fans forgave Big Ben for crashing his motorcycle while riding without a helmet when he won a couple of Superbowls. They looked the other way when he was named in a civil suit for sexual assault in Lake Tahoe. Anyone who researched the story realized that the plaintiff had her share of issues and was likely trying to trap a celebrity athlete. The Georgia case, however, was the final straw in a long list of situations where Roethlisberger used poor judgment. Store owners in Pittsburgh posted “Trade Ben” signs in their windows. Rumors swirled that the Steelers were considering shipping him to the Raiders for the #8 draft pick.
As Herm Edwards used to tell his players, nothing good happens after midnight. It’s fine to celebrate a birthday, but Ben couldn’t seem to grasp that the face of a franchise, particularly one led by the Rooney family, is held to much higher standards than the average guy in a bar. He made some lame apologies in a press conference without his coach or owners at his side and vowed to get his life in order. At the time, I decided that he would have to be a model citizen off the field for 5 years before I would believe that he had truly changed.
Cut to 2012, a mere 2 years later. Roethlisberger has stepped up as a leader in the locker room and made a habit of reaching out to rookies. The civil suit from Tahoe was settled quietly. Having mended his relationships with his father and sister, who saw little of him in prior years, Ben has also rediscovered his religious faith. While that’s not my business, anything that gives him direction can’t be bad. He got married. He earned his college degree. And now he is starting a family.
I’m still holding Roethlisberger to the 5-year plan for earning my trust that he won’t screw up again. But if the past 2 years are any indication, he has found the path to redemption and is well on his way.
Melanie Friedlander is a contributor to Steel City Blitz. You can follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/girlsurgeon.