Monday, June 12, 2006

Helmet head ...

Ben Roethlisberger may be the luckiest son-of-a-bitch in Pittsburgh today. But he's also one of the dumbest as well.

Roethlisberger, as some of you may know, is the 24-year-old quarterback of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers, who won the Super Bowl in February. That makes Roethlisberger one of the very top dogs in the city. He's rich, he's good-looking, he's off to what promises to be legendary career in one of the country's most football-crazy cities. And he loves to rides motorcycles - without a helmet. He points out that a long-standing law in Pennsylvania requiring motorcycle helmets was changed a few years ago to make helmets optional. He's been chewed out by both his coach, Bill Cowher, and by former Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw for going sans lid when he rides, told that he's putting his career in jeopardy, let alone his life. Neither of those formidable men seemed to make an impression on Roethlisberger.

Maybe this will: This morning, as Roethlisberger was rolling through downtown Pittsburgh on his ride, he apparently was cut off by one car, an action which threw the young athlete off his bike over his handlebars and into an oncoming car - head first. He then tumbled onto the pavement and was taken to a local hospital's trauma center. Early reports indicate that his injuries are not life-threatening, that he has a bad gash on his forehead and a possible concussion. One called to ESPN Radio indicated that Roethlisberger may have a broken jaw.

So, like I said, Roethlisberger is very lucky to have apparently escaped this accident with non-serious injuries. But, my God, what was he thinking? It's good to be young and independent and without a care in the world. But it also can be very dangerous. It was, of course, Roethlisberger's right as a citizen of Pennsylvania to choose not to wear a helmet while riding his motorcycle - indeed, to ride a motorcycle, period. But for someone who has shown such poise and maturity on the football field, he proved today that in other ways, he is still just a kid.

If nothing else, Roethlisberger should have paid attention to recent sports history, to the stories of Chicago Bulls point guard Jay Williams and Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow. Both men came into the pros of their respective sports loaded with potential - and both nearly threw it away in devastating motorcycle accidents. Williams nearly died in June 2003 when he crashed into a Chicago intersection, and suffered injuries to his lower body that were seriously enough that the Bulls released him. Winslow, a top draft choice of the Browns, already had missed most of his rookie season with a broken leg when, in May 2005, he blew his knee out while executing stunts on his bike and missed all of the 2005 season. As a result, Winslow has to forfeit some of his big Brown bucks for violating a clause in his contract outlawing "dangerous activities."

Right now it is unclear if Roethlisberger has such language in his Steelers pact. But even if there isn't such a clause, the Steelers should seriously consider taking back some of their millions if Roethlisberger misses just one game as a result of his injuries. In a sports world fueled by money, that seems to be the only argument that athletes will listen to these days. Roethlisberger can ride his motorcycle all over the place the day after he retires from professional football. But now, with so much cash on the table and so many Super Bowl rings to win, is not the time.

We in the transplant community refer to motorcycles as "donorcycles" because of the idiots who ride without a helmet and the fresh organs they supply to others after pulverizing their brains in accidents that they may have walked away from otherwise. Thankfully, it seems that Roethlisberger has avoided that fate. The question now is, will he see the light, or remain a kid at heart and mind?

[UPDATE - 11:30 a.m. pt] ESPN Radio reports that Roethlisberger is in serious but stable condition and is now undergoing surgery. ESPN host Dan Patrick just said that he is being flooded with e-mails and calls from the Pittsburgh area with info about Roehlisberger's situation but he said he won't report on them on the air until he gets confirmation, so as not to "alarm" listeners. This may be worse than thought.

[NEW UPDATE - 12:05 p.m.] ESPN now reporting that Roethlisberger suffered a broken jaw, the loss of most of his teeth, a laceration to his forehead and - and this may be the key football-wise - serious damage to both his knees when he hit the ground. Uh-oh ...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Number of the Beast ... kind of

Today is June 6, 2006 - or, as those with little time on their hands, 6-6-06. You know what that means. Yes, an excuse to release another bad remake! I mean, what other justification could there be for the production of a new "Omen" movie, other that it could be released on this once-in-a-century date? But if you needed more proof of the power of this ominous day, consider this. Today the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) play the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in - wait for it - St. Petersburg, Florida. Not only does this baseball match-up combine words that convey of heaven and hell, but it also takes place in Florida, maybe the closest thing to hell this country has today.

Oooooooo. Freaky.

Friday, June 02, 2006


(From left) Saryn Hooks, Finola Hackett, Katharine Close. Behold the future. Bow down and grovel.

Last night the viewing public was treated to the kind of reality program I can get behind - a live presentation of the finals of the 79th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, in which 13 of the best and brightest of North America gathered in Washington D.C. to spell their little hearts out. Now, I can expect some cynics out there to scoff at this event, at the garishness of thrusting young ones into the harsh spotlight of primetime television and ripping the innocence out of a precocious event in the name of ratings. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, last night's show was not only a thrilling competition, but a celebration of the coolness of education and intelligence.

ABC, which has had a checkered history in the reality-TV realm (for every "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," there is an "Are You Hot?" or "The Bachelor: This Time They'll Stay Together - We Promise!") did a splendid job with their presentation, never overselling the deal or going overboard with caustic elements. No kid was forced to eat a cockroach or sit in a confessional box and spill their guts. They were all clean-cut and charming and displayed loads of personality. And they all were very, very smart, spelling words so complicated that Microsoft Word's spell check won't even bother with many of them.

There was drama when Saryn Hooks, a 14-year-old from North Carolina, was eliminated from the competition for misspelling the word "hechescher" and then reinstated a few minutes later when judges determined that they screwed up their spelling of the word. (She eventually finished third.) There was surprise when the presumed favorite, confident 13-year-old Rajiv Tarigopula of St. Louis, was knocked out after flubbing the world "heiligenschein" (a bright light around a shadow of a person's head cause by dew drops - or something like that. God, did they make these words up or what?). And there was white-knuckle suspense as the final two competitors, Katharine Close of New Jersey and Canadian Finola Hackett, went toe-to-toe for several rounds nailing with ease words that God Himself wouldn't know how to spell before Finola finally got tripped up and Katharine ("Kerry" to, well, just about everybody) sealed the deal with the word "ursprache," which means parent language. She responded as any kid would and should - with utter disbelief, even though her confidence had shown through all night long.

I was very happy to see education on display for all of the nation to see. I was stoked that the final three spellers were all girls, 'cause you can never give enough attention to that aspect of the education issue. And I was very pleased for Kerry, who looks like the type of kid who will be able to handle the extra attention - and there will be a lot of it. Already she has done the three network morning shows, and I'm sure Leno and Letterman, among other things, are in the offing. (Kerry wants to be a journalist. We'll see if she sticks to that after dealing with the same questions over and over again.) If native sons Bruce Springsteen and Tony Soprano give her congratulatory phone calls, her year will be complete. Oh, that $42,000 in prize money won't hurt, either.

There always are signs that the bloom could pop off of this rose pretty damn quick. Some bettors actually laid odds on this year's competition. There's talk that the prize package could skyrocket if the finals remain on broadcast primetime, and who knows if that would destroy the camaraderie the spellers obviously build among each other. (Would it be long before some ambitious parent puts a hit out on his kid's main rival, or at least gives him a very sore throat?) But let's not think about that right now. Let's revel in the triumph of what happened yesterday. Can you spell a-w-e-s-o-m-e?

P.S. An interesting sidebar - last year Kerry Close was randomly picked to be the audience speller during a Broadway performance of the Tony-winning musical "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." Foreshadowing?

Click on the subject title for Newsday's take on the hometown girl done good.