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 ...

1 comment:

Beth said...

Wow, what a frickin' idiot. I really don't like motorcycles, but geez, if you gotta ride one, at least wear the protective gear. Screw the leather jacket if you must, but wear a helmet.