Commentary

Roethlisberger fumbling chance to heal

Candor now would serve QB better than finding a comfortable forum to spin his story

Originally Published: June 4, 2010
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

The most interesting news about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Thursday wasn't that he spoke to the media after his Pittsburgh Steelers practice. Instead, it was a report on the NFL Network later that day that should have raised eyebrows.

Supposedly, Roethlisberger's public relations specialists want to use a national sit-down interview as a way for him to bare his soul in the wake of his alleged sexual assault scandal. You know -- a chat with Oprah, Larry King or even somebody from this company, all of whom would jump at such an exclusive.

If true, this is humorous because Roethlisberger doesn't need such a forum to move his life in the right direction. He needs only to grow up and answer the tough questions as soon as possible. Roethlisberger could have taken such a step Thursday, when he chatted with local reporters on his way off the practice field.

What he ultimately gave them was the type of drivel he's offered since the story broke regarding his alleged actions in a Georgia nightclub, where a college student accused him of sexually assaulting her.

Roethlisberger -- who will miss at least four games for violating the league's personal-conduct policy -- talked about how great it was to be back practicing with his teammates. He said he'd put a lot of thought into his past behavior and that he'd been working closely with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on ways to mature.

But when asked about what specific changes Roethlisberger had been making lately, the star quarterback gave the reporters nothing. "A lot of them are personal things," he said. "You know, which is just something that I need to do."

That was about as good as it got from Roethlisberger. The sad part is that he probably thinks he said something productive. The reality is that he would have been better served to stay quiet.

By offering such bland answers, Roethlisberger left the impression that either: 1) he isn't ready or willing to address such matters publicly, or 2) he thinks the media should be happy with whatever little bit of time he gives them these days.

Of course, there is a third possibility behind his actions -- that he believes a conversation with a prominent national interviewer will help cleanse his image if he saves the good stuff for that kind of opportunity.

If this were 1995, that approach might have some merit. Back in those days -- before the rise of the Internet and the rampant growth of cable television -- we expected celebrities to apologize for their most salacious scandals before people like Oprah or Larry King or somebody on "60 Minutes."

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicWhenever Ben Roethlisberger wants to tell his story, he will have an audience.

That's where we went for the biggest stories. We thought such celebs were being courageous in addressing their most private issues on the biggest of stages.

That's just not the case today. Celebrities often run to such shows because they expect empathy and sympathy in return. They assume an hour under the microscope will be rewarded with a quick re-entry into the arms of a once-adoring public. They realize we're all suckers for a great comeback story. And what better way to start such a tale than with some serious emoting and a string of heartfelt apologies on a highly rated program.

The assumption here is that Roethlisberger is chasing just such a goal if he's going the national sit-down route. The only problem is that he needs to understand exactly what the potential backlash could be with such a move.

Given that Roethlisberger already has responded to this scandal with forgettable comments -- he also read a brief public statement to reporters after the charges were dropped in April -- he must realize that people's faith in his sincerity is vanishing.

His fans want to be mesmerized by his candor, not manipulated by his handlers.

The other issue he must consider is how this story would play in a one-hour interview. The details that already have gone public are so salacious that there's no way Roethlisberger could win over an audience immediately with his contrition.

No matter how you look at this situation, we're talking about a wealthy, big-time pro athlete with a history of being a jerk making moves on a drunk, 20-year-old student who probably was awed by his presence. Even Regis Philbin could look hardcore when handed that much material to work with in an interview.

This is why Roethlisberger's best course of action is to start putting this ordeal behind him as soon as possible. He easily could answer the tough questions at the Steelers' facility, then go home and hang out with family and friends. The people who are handling his public relations should know that as well as anybody. There's simply no way he's going to ease that process by doing it on a larger stage.

Unfortunately, the world of sports and celebrity has become so complicated that a guy like Roethlisberger can fail to see the simplest way to handle this situation.

He doesn't need Oprah's set or a spot across from Larry King. All Roethlisberger has to do is say he's ready to open up about how this experience has affected his life.

Once that day arrives, you can bet there will be more than enough people willing to listen to whatever he has to say.

Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.