Consider Ben Roethlisberger 0-for-1 in his comeback to public life. His first media gathering to address his return to football in the wake of his suspension being momentarily lifted was a badly designed parlor trick.
It was so poorly choreographed, it made Buzz Aldrin on “Dancing with the Stars” look good.
About forty media types from all manner of outlets showed up for an O-T-A in June to hear Roethlisberger’s first spoken words since his six game suspension was levied by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
After practice the quarterback had a brief conversation with Steeler media relations employee Burt Lauten, Roethlisberger gave an unscripted but well thought out opening statement. And he allowed for two questions.
One of those was from Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (the most veteran writer on the Steeler beat and the chapter president of the Pro Football Writer’s Association). The other was from a local TV reporter who Roethlisberger immediately identified as his first choice to answer a question from among the din of inquiries being shouted his way.
The question was something about support Ben had gotten from his teammates so far. A softball to be sure. (An aside here… the NFL Network’s reporter had to leave Pittsburgh earlier than expected. It was debated by some, including myself, that the local reporter may have been selected by Roethlisberger in advance with knowledge he would ask such a question on behalf of the network. Believe what you will. The reporter denies acting an NFL Network proxy).
After those two questions, Lauten whisked Ben away. He went to the hook so fast let’s hope Lauten is managing the Pirates next time Charlie Morton pitches.
“I’ve put a lot of thought into my life…and into decisions I’ve made in the past,“ said Roethlisberger in his opening statement. “I’m looking forward to this second opportunity not only in football but in life.”
Roethlisberger went on to say, “I’ve spent a lot time evaluating my life on and off the field. And maybe it’s time for me to close this chapter of the last couple years of my life and start a new one.”
Roethlisberger even mentioned that it would be “neat” to evaluate his life from this point going forward.
To his credit, Roethlisberger came off more friendly than he has in the past. He was less demeaning of the media than normal, and more respectful of its role as communicator to the fans.
In the limited window he allowed us to see through, Roethlisberger even appeared sincere and legitimate in his pledge to be a better person.
But it’s unfortunate Roethlisberger didn’t learn anything from Tiger Woods’ ill-fated attempt to control media response to his public transgressions.
Tiger tried to stage a handpicked press conference. And it came off badly. No one bought a word he said. It looked insincere. He didn’t take any questions. The world saw through the veil. The public didn’t let him pass the sniff test.
Then he did a series of puff-piece one-on-ones with the friendly network faces from ESPN and the Golf Channel. Tiger’s off-course problems didn’t cease to be an issue until he did a real sit down press conference and answered all the pertinent questions before the Masters.
From that point on, the golf world has been focusing on his game, his neck injury, and his decision to go on without a swing coach. The tabloid stuff has been left to the tabloids.
Roethlisberger should employ the same strategy that eventually Tiger gave into. Just suck it up and get it over worth.
Sit down for 20 minutes with the media collectively. That way every outlet is there. Every outlet will have a reporter (not handpicked) who will get a question in. And every fan possible will get Roethlisberger’s side of the story and his view.
All Thursday afternoon became was a media appetizer. It was the press equivalent of a shrimp cocktail.
Until Ben answers questions about the suspension, the fan response, his relationship with Art Rooney, his rehab treatment, and maybe even a few about the facts surrounding the events in Georgia and/or Reno (he at least has to stand up and give a “No comment.“) every time Roethlisberger talks the event will be…well… just that. An event. A circus.
It’s time for Big Ben to be a Big Man and face the music…for real this time. He’ll benefit. The public will benefit. And most importantly, the team will benefit.