PITTSBURGH -- A contrite Ben Roethlisberger said he got caught up in being a caricature called Big Ben, not the grounded player and person he once was, leading to his off-field problems and affecting his play as the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback.
In his first detailed interviews since a Georgia college student accused him of sexually assaulting her in a nightclub bathroom on March 5, Roethlisberger told Pittsburgh TV stations KDKA and WTAE that he doesn't have an alcohol problem. Before the alleged assault, Roethlisberger and his party ordered considerable amounts of alcohol.
When the NFL announced Roethlisberger's six-game suspension on April 21, commissioner Roger Goodell said the quarterback was required to undergo evaluation. Neither the league nor Roethlisberger has detailed what was being evaluated.
While Roethlisberger told KDKA there were drinking issues on his late mother's side of the family, he said his father, Ken, never permitted alcohol in their house, even when the quarterback played at Miami (Ohio).
"Moving forward, you have to make sure you make the right decision, and that right decision is something I'm going to have to make, when that [alcohol] situation presents itself," he told KDKA. "You can't stop living, but you've got to live smart."
Roethlisberger apologized extensively for his behavior and promised he won't go back to being the ego-driven, rude and boorish person he was before, not only in public but also in private.
"I got caught up being Big Ben the whole time. I lost track of who Ben Roethlisberger was. It's not something I'm proud of," he told WTAE.
Similarly, he told KDKA, "Big Ben just kept building up. It ended up coming off the field. It kept taking over. Superman kept taking over Clark Kent and you just never saw who Ben Roethlisberger was any more. At the time, I didn't see it. I was gaining everything but I was losing a lot of who I was raised to be."
The Roethlisberger interviews were aired one day after 60 audio and video clips from the investigation were released by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. In several, his 20-year-old accuser said she felt powerless to stop a short-tempered Roethlisberger from having sex with her, even though she told him over and over again to stop.
Roethlisberger suggested that living a role rather than living a life may have affected him on the field, too. The Steelers went 9-7 and missed the playoffs last season, one season after winning the Super Bowl, even though he had his best season statistically since being a first-round draft pick in 2004.
"I've wanted to apologize to them [fans] for so many things. For being immature, for being dumb, for being young, for not knowing any better," he told WTAE. "For getting caught up in everything that was thrown my way. ... In my heart, I know I haven't been the best person, the best quarterback for the Steelers -- I'm not talking just on the field, I'm talking off the field."
Roethlisberger is sorry that his behavior hurt and saddened his parents, sister and other family members. His sister, Carlee, was a member of Oklahoma's women's basketball Final Four team, yet she told reporters he did not attend one of her games last season.
Already, he said, family members can tell a difference in him since the Georgia incident.
"My dad said to me about a month ago, 'It's good to have my son back,'" Roethlisberger told WTAE. "That killed me because my dad's been my best friend. For him to say that to me really let me know I wasn't who he raised me to be."
Because lawyers did not permit the questions to be asked, the two-time Super Bowl winner gave no details about the Milledgeville, Ga., nightclub incident, although he faces no charges. But he said his family members know what happened. His father and stepmother now live in Pittsburgh, moving from Findlay, Ohio, where Roethlisberger grew up.
Roethlisberger chose to do interviews with local TV stations upon the advice of consultants hired to help him and the Steelers rebuild his badly damaged public image. He promised several times that fans won't see the bad Roethlisberger -- rather than the popular, championship-winning player of before -- any longer.
"Those chapters in my life, I've closed that book and I'm not opening them up," he told WTAE. "It only matters what I do from here on out. That's what I'm excited about -- showing people, proving to people, fans, teammates, my family, the commissioner, everybody, who Ben Roethlisberger is. And that Ben is here to stay."