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Monday, March 8, 2010
What was Ben Roethlisberger thinking?!

By Jemele Hill
ESPN.com

Let's begin with the usual platitudes: Ben Roethlisberger is innocent until proved guilty. So far, the two-time Super Bowl champion has not been charged with a crime, though police in a small Georgia college town are continuing to investigate the allegation that Roethlisberger sexually assaulted a 20-year-old college student in a bar bathroom early Friday morning.

And with that out of the way, let me pose the question that has plagued many of us since hearing the news that Roethlisberger is the subject of sexual assault allegations for the second time in eight months: Why is a 28-year-old quarterback with a $100 million contract putting himself at risk by socializing and drinking in a club with college kids?

Ben Roethlisberger
He's poised and prepared on the field, and he produces. But Ben Roethlisberger's judgment off the field has been questionable.
Roethlisberger can be trusted in the waning seconds with the game on the line, but after this most recent accusation it's an understatement to suggest that his judgment in real life might not be nearly as reliable.

I am not one of those people who believes athletes should have to stay confined to their homes, but after a hotel worker served Roethlisberger with a civil suit last summer accusing him of raping her at a Lake Tahoe hotel in 2008, he should have been smart enough to realize the rules have changed for him.

In other words, the first incident officially put bar-hopping in Milledgeville, Ga., on his "to-don't" list.

I understand that Roethlisberger is single and that clubbing isn't illegal, but if he couldn't see that mixing alcohol, college women, his celebrity and the nightclub scene was courting disaster, he might not be worthy of being the franchise quarterback for one of the most well-run organizations in professional sports.

I know that sounds harsh. If you hold a magnifying glass to Roethlisberger's track record, though, there are definitely some red flags pointing to the fact that he still needs to grow up. Until now, he's received the benefit of the doubt about his maturity. But that officially ended when this criminal investigation began.

It can't be forgotten that Roethlisberger, the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, nearly killed himself in a motorcycle accident in June 2006 because he wasn't wearing a helmet, which his then-coach Bill Cowher had insisted he do. Roethlisberger didn't even have a valid Pennsylvania motorcycle license at the time.

That, supposedly, was his wake-up call to become more responsible. When he left the hospital after suffering serious injuries, he said in a statement, "In the past few days, I've gained a new perspective on life."

If that perspective was intended to be mature and enlightened, it apparently didn't stick.

Even with so much to lose, Roethlisberger has continued to behave too much like a frat boy and not enough like the face of his organization.

He has a reputation in Pittsburgh for trying to skip out on his restaurant tabs, according to news reports. There is also a picture of Roethlisberger on the Internet wearing a T-shirt that says "Drink Like A Champion."

And the drink isn't milk.

Several people who saw Roethlisberger out in Milledgeville the other night reported that he bought himself and others shots called "O-Bombs," a flavored rum-and-energy drink mixture. Inside the club where the assault allegedly occurred, according to a report from ESPN's Kelly Naqi, Roethlisberger and his friends were inviting women they didn't know into their VIP area and offering them free drinks.

A good night if your name is Ben Smith. Totally idiotic if you're Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger was all smiles when his $102 million contract extension was announced two years ago.
There's a reason you never hear about Tom Brady partying in bars or clubs, or have yet to see any unflattering photos of him on the Internet. That isn't to say Brady is perfect, but he seems to understand that he's a brand worth millions and that he has too much at stake to put himself in situations in which he'd be the one who loses out. Derek Jeter is Mr. Social and a serial dater, but you've never heard his name associated with any controversy, despite living in New York City for more than a decade.

Roethlisberger apparently didn't understand that his high-profile status mixed with the pending civil case meant he could no longer afford to maintain social habits that mirror those of Bluto from "Animal House." At the minimum, he should have realized he became a potential target the moment that civil case was filed.

In that case, Roethlisberger has admitted that he and Andrea McNulty -- the woman who filed the civil case against him in Nevada -- had consensual sex. McNulty's lawyer has already indicated to TMZ that he will be watching the developments in Georgia very closely.

Roethlisberger's reputation has taken a major hit, and I wouldn't blame the Rooney family if they're having second thoughts today about the $102 million investment they made in him. A good quarterback is supposed to see the entire field and anticipate plays before they happen. It seems as if this quarterback's vision leaves much to be desired.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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