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Published: Tuesday, 6/13/2006

Big Ben pays price for bad choice

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger dodged death yesterday.

He might not be so lucky next time.

Big Ben's refusal to wear a protective helmet while riding his motorcycle is absurd and astonishing.

There is no law requiring a helmet in Pennsylvania. It has been legal to go without one for three years now.

It just doesn't make sense.

Why the 24-year-old bachelor millionaire shows a reckless disregard for his own personal safety is hard to comprehend.

He might be the proud owner of a shiny new Super Bowl ring, but he still is young and immature.

When Steelers coach Bill Cowher first learned last year at mini camp that Roethlisberger was riding around town on a motorcycle helmetless, Cowher called him in for a chat.

They talked about choices and consequences.

They talked about Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow, who tore knee ligaments performing a stunt on his motorcycle and missed the 2005 season.

"It's one of those things, where he talked about being a risk-taker and I'm not really a risk-taker, I'm pretty conservative and laid back," Roethlisberger told reporters. "So the big thing is just be careful and that's what we do.

"I think every person that rides is careful. That's the biggest thing, I'll just continue to be careful. I told him we never ride alone. We always ride in a group of people, and I think that makes it more safe."

Roethlisberger obviously thumbed his nose at Cowher and didn't heed any of his coach's advice.

That angered Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who scolded Roethlisberger when he visited the Steelers' training camp last summer.

"Ride it when you retire," Bradshaw said. "That's the way I feel. Those things are dangerous."

Roethlisberger found that out first-hand yesterday.

The seriousness of his facial and knee injuries won't be known for some time, nor will his playing status, but here's hoping for a speedy and full recovery.

For now, this much is certain: he let a lot of folks down.

His family.

The fans.

His teammates.

His coaches.

And last but not least, the Rooneys.

Roethlisberger's lucrative contract does not prohibit him from riding motorcycles, with or without a helmet, but it should.

What he did yesterday was selfish.

He needs to be smarter, he needs to make better decisions.

Sadly, tragedy has struck Roethlisberger's family before.

His birth mother, Ida, was killed when he was 8. A pickup truck slammed into her car in the summer of 1990 as she was traveling from Lima to Findlay to pick up Ben at his dad's for a weekend visit.

Just four months ago, Roethlisberger became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to lead a team to the Super Bowl championship when the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL at Ford Field in Detroit.

A week ago, he picked up his Super Bowl ring.

Yesterday morning, Pittsburgh paramedics picked Big Ben up off the pavement and transported him to Mercy Hospital after he collided with a car that turned in front of him.

You can only hope that Roethlisberger ends his risky behavior and puts on a helmet.

Most would prefer that he park his motorcycle until his football career is over.

Bikes are quick and dangerous, but also deadly.

If Roethlisberger didn't know that before, he does now.



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