Posted on July 30, 2010 · Posted in Brain Injury

It’s the brain injury, stupid.

That’s what I would say to The New York Times regarding its profile Friday of disgraced Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The story, headlined “A Reputation In Ruins,”  traces Roethlisberger’s life from high school to  the NFL, interviewing his friends and associates.

The article is about Roethlisberger’s fall from grace, from being a hero with two Super Bowl titles and a $102 million contract to a man acting like a thug, accused of sexually assaulting a very drunk, defenseless woman in the bathroom of a Georgia nightclub. Roethlisberger wasn’t charged in that case, but he was suspended for six games and ordered to undergo a behaviorial evaluation.

I have written several blogs about how Roethlisberger’s history of brain injury is a textbook explanation for his recent change in behavior, his despicable actions. The quarterback was in a near-fatal motorcycle where he cracked his helmetless head in 2006.  And Roethlisberger has sustained several concussions while playing.

Yet, I read The Times story several times and saw two references to Roethlisberger’s motorcycle accident, and nothing about his concussions. And the idea that his brain injuries may be a factor in his behavior isn’t even raised by The Times.

The Times makes a big point of the fact that as Roethlisberger emerged as a star football player in high school, the team’s quarterback, he developed a sense of entitlement. His classmates described him as “cocky,” and not exactly a team player. He would miss practices.

Doesn’t that description apply to a good number of young rising-star athletes who make it to professional sports, not only football but baseball and basketball as well? What’s so shocking about a super star athlete being cocky? That’s the equivalent of a dog-bites-man story for sports.

Anyway, when Roethlisberger first came to play for Pittsburgh he was polite and low-key, a guy who didn’t even drink alcohol, according to those who knew him.

“But Roethlisberger’s behavior, by many accounts, changed after he won his first Super Bowl, in February 2006,”  The Times wrote. “Four months later, he sustained head injuries in a motorcycle crash. He was not wearing a helmet.”

I’d submit that the brain trauma from the accident and concussions had a lot more to do with Roethlisberger winding up being accused of sexual assault this year — and being sued by a woman who alleges he raped her in Lake Tahoe — than the Super Bowl win going to his head.

But you’d never know that from The Times’ story. That one paragraph I quoted here is the only mention of brain injury in the story.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447