Hard lesson learned ... we hope

Ben Roethlisberger believes himself to be bullet-proof. But that's not a bad thing. In fact, all professional athletes do. They have to. About the time they start worrying about getting injured, that's what happens.

And let's face it, you have to be a little reckless to play in the NFL. It's part of the job description.

But there's reckless and then there's just plain stupid.

And one could make a serious argument that Roethlisberger's decision to continue riding a motorcycle – and a crotch rocket at that – sans a helmet, ranks right up there with some of the dumbest moves made by a professional athlete.

Now let me clarify something first. Roethlisberger owes Steelers fans nothing.

He's a paid performer, nothing more, nothing less.

But if recent injuries to professional athletes on motorcycles such as the Cleveland Browns' Kellen Winslow or the Chicago Bulls' Jason Williams, both of whom wrecked their motorcycles and haven't played their sport since, didn't show Roethlisberger that he was playing with fire, nothing would have.

Winslow, who had his accident last spring, missed the entire 2005 season, though he's expected to return this year. Williams, meanwhile, hasn't played since wrecking his motorcycle in 2003.

Because of accidents such as those and the one second baseman Jeff Kent suffered in 2002 as a member of the San Francisco Giants, Rothlisberger's motorcycle escapades have long been a source of contention between he and Steelers head coach Bill Cowher.

In fact, last spring after Winslow's accident came to light, Cowher asked his young quarterback to refrain from not just riding without a helmet, but riding the motorcycle at all.

And even Roethlisberger's teammates chimed in on the subject as well. Said linebacker Joey Porter – not often known to be the voice of reason, "You know what they say about motorcycles: The concrete is undefeated. It has never lost."

Nor, I would wager, have too many Chrysler New Yorkers.

Roethlisberger is a grown man. He was not breaking any laws. That much is true.

In fact, if he chooses to ride a motorcycle with or without a helmet or run with the bulls at Pamplona, that's his business.

But when he's injured doing so, it becomes the business of his employers, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The third point in a standard NFL contract reads that players "will not engage in any activity other than football which may involve a significant risk of personal injury."

It's something in NFL circles that has become known as the "Kellen Winslow Clause." The Browns used that clause to recoup a large portion of the signing bonus they gave Winslow in 2004 after his motorcycle accident.

Should we later find that Roethlisberger also tore some knee ligaments or his rotator cuff in the accident – something that's entirely possible – the Steelers could go the same route with Roethlisberger.

It's likely not something he thought about every time he climbed aboard one of his many motorcycles.

Now, with any luck, Roethlisberger will have learned a very important lesson in this case that he is not bullet-proof.

No matter how careful he is on his motorcycle, he can't account for what another driver may do – just as Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer couldn't account for Steelers' defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen falling on his leg during their playoff game last year and blowing up Palmer's knee.

Professional athletes don't like to think about things like that. They don't like to admit they have the same human frailties as everyone else.

Maybe now, Roethlisberger will and will stay off the motorcycles.

Courtesy of the Observer-Reporter


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