Editor's note: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who sustained face and head injuries as the result of an accident while riding his motorcycle in June, spoke about it to ESPN's Jim Rome on Wednesday. Here's a full transcript of the show.
JR: Ben, it has been about a month since you were in an accident where you suffered a broken nose and a broken jaw. Looking at you, you look really good. So first things first, how do you feel?
BR: I feel well, ah … I feel a little bit better every day. I'm improving … I amaze my doctors every time I see them. They say I am healing pretty quick.
JR: So what did the doctors tell you initially?
BR: Well, the first things I heard were from family and friends. They were the first ones that told me what happened. And, um, I have a skeleton at home with all the plates on it and it wasn't pretty. And that I was lucky to be alive.
JR: Did you not know what happened?
BR: Uh. No, I don't remember. I remember very few things about the accident. I remember one car turning in front of me. I don't remember the car that hit me, but I remember that first car turning in front of me and the next thing I remember is being in the ambulance and asking is this really happening.
I said, "Tell me this is just a bad dream" and he said, "No, everything is going to be OK." And he asked me, "Is there anyone you want me to call?" and I just gave him two numbers and I don't remember anything until I woke up from surgery.
JR: Take me back through that entire day, exactly what happened that day?
BR: I woke up early that morning to do a [bunch] of radio interviews. Just had a bunch of things set up for this company I was doing stuff for and got done doing it and was like "It's a great day outside, I should go work out."
Just on my own -- it wasn't a team function or anything -- and I said, "Well, I'll just jump on my bike real quick." I had just had some work done to it and I will just take it and get it done. Just a couple more things to it and I was actually supposed to take my helmet with me that day because I was going to get it painted to match the bike.
And I forgot it because it was downstairs in my basement and I jumped on my bike and headed over to practice. I went a different route that day than I normally go. Normally, I go on the highway because it's a little bit quicker, but that day I went the back way through the city because there was a little bit of traffic on the highway and I didn't wear my helmet. I went through the city and that's the last thing I remember.
JR: So the accident itself, you don't remember anything about the accident?
BR: No, everything I heard about the accident, I heard afterwards.
JR: So you were not wearing a helmet that day? Explain that how come.
BR: That day I wasn't. I forgot it. I literally forgot it. You know there are times that, people had been making a big deal for the last couple years about me riding first of all and then me riding without a helmet. But it's one of those things that I ride with a helmet also. I do a little bit of both.
If you don't wear a seat belt every time you ride in the car, should I label you as a person who doesn't wear a seat belt? And unfortunately, I happened to not have it on that day because I forgot it in the basement.
JR: You forgot it that day, but you sometimes wear it and sometimes don't wear it? Why do you not wear it all the time?
BR: You know it's one of those choices that I make. You know it's not a law. I'm not breaking the law by riding in Pennsylvania and not wearing a helmet.
It's a choice that I make and I don't feel like I necessarily need to. It's nice to be free when you are out riding a motorcycle and, you know, it's a decision that I make.
JR: Talk about that: athletes and motorcycles. Talk about that you feel free when you ride a motorcycle. What is it that riding a motorcycle gives you such a charge? Why do you do it?
BR: Well, if you ask people who ride … it's the wind blowing through your hair if you will. It's just out there and being free and being open. You know, you're not sitting in a closed car and I think it's just the power that you have that you are just out riding.
JR: When you first heard that Kellen Winslow and [former NBA basketball player] Jay Williams were badly hurt while riding motorcycles, what did you think?
BR: Well obviously, you feel for those guys you hope that they are OK. But all the reports are that Kellen was trying to do tricks and stuff like that and you hope that never happens.
I don't try to do tricks. I have never tried to ride a wheelie or things like that so I always thought to myself "that will never happen to me because I am not out trying to do tricks and stuff." It's just one of those things, like I said that you just hope never happens to you.
JR: We mentioned that you don't actually remember the accident yourself. When you finally started to come to and you started to realize the gravity of the situation, when was that? Where were you exactly when it happened?
BR: You know, like I said, the guy in the ambulance said that it wasn't a dream and it started to click in but like I said, I don't really remember much until after. I remember Coach [Bill] Cowher being in there and my family and my friends and people just kinda talking to me in the hospital, but both my eyes were swollen shut and I don't remember too much. But I remember when Coach Cowher came in there and he said something to me and the first thing I said was, "I'm sorry." And I apologized to my parents for putting them through this too.
JR: Sorry for what?
BR: Sorry for putting them through the scare. The long nights they were about to endure. You know, that worry and the many tears obviously.
JR: What were you thinking about? Maybe your next game with the Steelers? Were you just thinking about living, surviving?
BR: I was just thinking about life. You know, when something like this happens, you realize a couple things. You realize, "I almost lost my friends, I almost lost football, but most importantly I almost lost my family." And to me and everyone who knows me knows that family is what is most important to me and laying in that hospital I wasn't thinking about football. I wasn't thinking about riding. I was thinking about my family.
JR: Are you still going to ride?
BR: I don't know. I am not even thinking about that right now. To me right now, like I said when I first started thinking about things, I started thinking about my family. Now that I am doing better and I feel good now, all I am thinking about is football and that is what is on my mind right now. I am getting healthy and I am getting better every day, so all I am thinking about is football. I am not thinking about anything else.
JR: Ben, like you said, you are lucky. You are lucky. As bad as it was, how is there even a choice here? Why is anything important enough to risk and get back on that bike?
BR: Like I said, I don't know. I am not thinking about that risk again because right now, I have a football season coming up and that is what is most important to me right now. To answer your question, I am not thinking about what could happen.
JR: I get that you're not thinking about it, but you aren't telling me that you won't do it again. Right? You might ride again.
BR: You never know.
JR: With or without a helmet?
BR: With a helmet.
JR: I understand that, the thing about a helmet is it can guard against serious head injuries. It can help you, but what about everything else? What about your knees? What about your elbows? What about your shoulder? What about your responsibility to a football team?
BR: Absolutely, I mean I think that is where it gets tricky. You know, you can die with a helmet on. You can wear a slide jacket that has padding in it where you can supposedly slide down a road and not get road rash.
You do have a responsibility to your team and I feel like I have lived up to that responsibility and helped them win games and win a Super Bowl and hopefully I can continue to do that now.
JR: You talked about apologizing to Bill Cowher, have you addressed your teammates?
BR: Um, yeah. I talked to a lot of them. I haven't called a team meeting or anything like that but I have talked to all of them or they talked to me and they are all just glad that I am going to be around and that I am going to be OK. Not one of them has ever said one bad thing about me riding and I am thankful for that, that I have good teammates.
JR: That is their message to you. Have you had any general message to them? What do you tell your teammates?
BR: Um, I just tell them that I will be ready for them; that I will be there for you guys. You know, I am sorry if I have put any worry on you guys. Thank you for your cards, and flowers and everything, but I will be ready. I will be there for you guys and hopefully I will be just as good if not better.
JR: Not one of those guys has been like, "Ben, we are happy that you are OK, but don't do it again." Not one of those guys?
BR: Not one, not even a veteran like Jerome [Bettis], but he is obviously not on the team anymore. Not one guy has said stay off a bike.
"It made me realize what I almost lost being a professional athlete. Sometimes you forget that you are not a real person and that is tough because we live under a microscope and people put us on a pedestal, which isn't always a bad thing. "
JR: What about Cowher? You said "I am sorry." What did he say to you?
BR: Well Coach Cowher, and this is a credit to him. What he said to the media he said to me. He said the exact same thing. He said, "Ben, what makes you special is that you are a free spirit and that is what makes you who you are. I don't want you to change that free-spiritness. I want you to be careful, but don't change who you are."
JR: Ben, last year, did the team itself, did the organization say to you, "Don't ride that motorcycle anymore or parts of your contract might be in jeopardy?"
BR: No, that was never brought up and people made a big deal that Coach Cowher, that I was defying Coach Cowher and the team, and that Coach Cowher said, "Ben don't ride again and don't do this." That never happened. Coach Cowher has always told me from Day 1, "Just be careful, be smart. I would like for you not to ride but I am not telling you not to." It's good that I can kinda clear [the air] because people thought I was blatantly defying him.
JR: So tell me: Big picture, does a team, any team have the right to tell its players you can't do this?
BR: I mean that is the team's call. If they put it in your contract, I know the wording is dangerous activities or whatever, but what is dangerous activities? So I guess if they wanna make that call and it is their team, then I guess they can do that.
JR: Training camp is going to open at the end of July, are you going to be ready?
BR: Absolutely, I plan on it. You know you can never predict the future but every day I am getting better. I have been working out every day for two weeks now. I have been throwing. Been at the facility. I have been throwing with my teammates. I have been running with my teammates so I feel that I will be ready.
JR: So you are throwing? How do you feel? If you had to put a number on it, what percentage are you at right now?
BR: I would say 80 percent. I like where I am at the point where, if this had never happened I wouldn't even be throwing right now because I like to rest my arm as long as I can. But I have been throwing a couple of times a week to make sure that my arm still works and it does. And I feel good the way I run and I think I will be ready.
JR: I would imagine eating the first couple weeks would be tough. Are you at the same weight?
BR: My weight is down a little bit, but it's not down drastically. I am at a weight where I can go to camp and I feel good. I feel good when I am running and I feel that I will put just the right amount of weight on during training camp because I can eat normal food now. I can put the extra weight I did lose on.
JR: So when do you think you will see your first game action?
BR: Well, that is up to Coach. I don't know what their schedule was before the accident with preseason games. Sometimes they play guys and sometimes they don't, but I will be ready. I will tell coach, "I am ready whenever you want me," so that is pretty much his call.
JR: Are the doctors going to put any restrictions on you?
BR: Ah, I have a couple doctor's appointments every week. I keep talking to them and they keep checking up on me. I had one right before I came out here and they have not put any restrictions on anything I do.
JR: Ben any concern at all; that was a serious, serious injury. Any concern at all about getting back on the field and taking a punch?
BR: Well I took a couple pretty good punches a couple weeks ago. Ah, getting hit by Ray Lewis and Jevon Kearse pretty much feels like getting hit by a car, but I feel like when I get out there, you know, it's probably not going to feel great to get hit by people like that. It never does, but I'm not too worried. You know, from the neck down my body feels great. You know, it's just the concern is my head and it feels fine. All the doctors think it's going to be fine, so no more concern than I always do when I go out there.
JR: You look good, you sound good. Privately when you are with yourself, have you ever though "am I going to be the same player that I once was?"
BR: No, never and that is the honest truth because I look at myself in the mirror everyday and "OK, I am looking a little bit better. I am feeling a little bit better." Everyday I work out I feel stronger and my goal at the end of this is to come out better because right now after winning the Super Bowl, we have put a pretty big bull's-eye on our chest, on my chest.
After [my] first season, people said how can you live up to 15 wins. Well we didn't have as good a record but we won a Super Bowl. Now people are like you: "expectations are even higher, well what are you going to do?" Well now after the accident, people are saying there is no way he is even going to be good; he cant even play. So now there are more people doubting what I can do so hopefully I can go out and prove people wrong.
JR: Seems like that's how it was [with] you coming out of college with a chip on your shoulder and it seems like you have a different one now. But Bill Cowher said "you are a free spirit. We don't want things to change" and that why you have been so successful. But having gone through an experience like this, are you going to have to change your approach on the field?
BR: Um, I don't know. I don't know if I will have to. That is just something that we will have to see when we get out there whether it be a preseason game or a regular-season game. Now does that mean that I will have to slide instead of try and run someone over or get down? … I don't know. I don't see myself having to change my style of play yet.
JR: Now taking this thing overall. This entire experience, how has it impacted you?
BR: Well, like I said before, it made me realize what I almost lost being a professional athlete. Sometimes you forget that you are not a real person and that is tough because we live under a microscope and people put us on a pedestal, which isn't always a bad thing. But sometimes when you are doing things, you just wanna have a normal life and be normal and maybe I got a little selfish and wanted to have a normal life by riding a motorcycle and doing things like that and thinking that I am invincible because of all the things that have happened. And I think this brought me back down and said, "Hey Ben, don't forget who you are and what you are and just be smart."
JR: Was that it, so young, strong, physical … you had so much success so soon that you started to think that you are bulletproof? That can't happen to me.
BR: Maybe a little bit, just because of the success that we have had and the pedestal that the public has put you on and I think was a way of saying, "Hey listen." And it's probably God's way of saying the same thing: "Hey you better settle down a little bit and get off your high horse and just be smart. I can take this away from you in a flash. This is your warning."
JR: You said that sometimes you wear a helmet and sometimes you don't. But you would never go and play football without a helmet. What is the difference between football and riding a motorcycle?
BR: Well, when you play football, you have to wear your helmet. It's a rule. When you ride, you don't have to. It's not a law.
JR: It's not a rule?
BR: It's not a law.
JR: Yeah, but if it wasn't a rule in football, you wouldn't go with one of those leather helmets.
BR: No I wouldn't. Guys hit too hard.
JR: When you bottom line this thing, you can wrap up your knees and shoulders. People need that one good lick, but are you going to need that one good lick to see if you are back?
BR: You know for quarterbacks, you go through training camp and you don't get hit and it's almost like you need that one good lick in the first game, period, just to get you back. So you need that every year anyway, so it will probably help me, probably give me a little jolt. So I may need two or three licks, but yeah, it probably will.
JR: We haven't seen you in about a month, so we don't know exactly how dire it was and what was going on. What did the doctors tell you, did they tell you how fortunate you really were and did they tell you how bad it really was? What I am getting at is what did they tell you?
BR: You know what, I find out more and more now that I am healthy and ask more questions now. You know, I found out literally how close I was. I found out how bad it was: it's gruesome. I wouldn't even want to talk about it. It's pretty bad how bad I got messed up.
They told me that I was literally seconds, maybe a minute away from dying because I slit a vein or artery in my mouth or my throat and it was draining blood right into my stomach and luckily the paramedic noticed it and stopped it or else I would have had too much blood in my stomach.
JR: What was your reaction the first time you looked into the mirror and saw yourself?
BR: I scared myself. You know, I looked in the mirror at the hospital, you know, the day after the accident and I was like I will never be the same. You know this is terrible and luckily I have such a strong family and faith in God. We said, "You know we can get through this." You know it took a lot but we said we can get through this.
JR: You know Ben, physically you look like you healed up, and emotionally it sounds like you healed up. How did you heal those scars so quickly?
BR: Faith, my family, my friends. I had so many people at the hospital staying and taking care of me. My family stayed at my house for a week and really just the love that I felt [has] really put everything in perspective and really helped me get through this.
JR: Did you ever have a conversation with the driver of that car?
JR: Do you want to?
BR: You know, I may come across sounding cold you know. I don't. I don't. You know, I don't blame her. I don't have any ill wishes toward her, but I don't have any need or desire to.
JR: No resentment that you are now in this position?
BR: No not at all. I don't. I don't. I obviously don't hold her responsible. That is just who I am. I forgive her for the accident.
JR: You have a golf tournament coming up now, and quarterbacks are always good golfers. How are you hitting 'em?
BR: You know I haven't been able to hit them in a while, so I am going to see if I can get a couple more strokes on my handicap and see if I can use that as an excuse or not.