sports psychologist & clinical psychology

BEN, FOOTBALL, AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE RIDING

Bloomberg Wire – Jun 15, 2006 – Scott Soshnick – Let Ben Roethlisberger live. Or die trying, for that matter. Let him ride his motorcycle, a speed machine dubbed the Hayabusa, which Suzuki says is the fastest street-legal bike out there. Let him crash, even though he might get hurt, or worse. Let him forego a helmet, even if the 24-year-old mistakenly believes that really bad things don’t happen to Super Bowl- winning quarterbacks.

Please, though, no righteous speeches about responsibility to teammates and the city of Pittsburgh. If Roethlisberger were some no-name on the punt coverage team then surely most Steelers fans wouldn’t have held their breath when news of his motorcycle crash broke three days ago.

So, all the consternation isn’t really about Roethlisberger, the person. It’s about his ability to play, his ability to throw touchdown passes. It’s about the possibility of a repeat championship.

Don’t Roethlisberger’s wishes count in this debate?

Asking Roethlisberger to drive a Volvo, which usually draws some of the highest safety ratings, is akin to asking Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro not to run. Even after Barbaro shattered his leg during the Preakness Stakes he wanted to run, tried to run.

Wait until your National Football League days are over to ride, they tell him. At least that’s what former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw said.

Donor Cycles

“Park that sucker,” was Bradshaw’s advice to Big Ben in an ESPN interview a year ago. “Those things are dangerous.”

Yes, they are. That’s why they’re sometimes referred to as donor cycles.

Nevertheless, some people prefer a perilous ride to something with doors, antilock brakes and air bags. At least many pro athletes do. More than, let’s say, sportswriters.

That isn’t amateur psychology. It’s Dr. John F. Murray, a Palm Beach, Florida, sports psychologist.

“There is a large segment of the sports world that needs and thrives on these high-risk activities and outlets,” he says.

Perhaps that need for a thrill explains why former Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Pelle Lindbergh was speeding in his customized Porsche before fatally crashing into a wall in 1985. Maybe that’s why basketball player Bobby Phills was drag racing with a Charlotte Hornets teammate after practice before dying in a wreck. Competitive juices don’t stop just because the game is over.

How Could He?

Those ripping Roethlisberger want to know how he could ignore what happened to former Chicago Bulls guard Jay Williams, whose career was derailed when he smashed his motorcycle into a light pole. What about Kellen Winslow Jr., who tore a knee ligament while performing tricks on his bike.

Roethlisberger didn’t ignore any of it. He didn’t ignore the pleas of his coach or his father. He made a decision to ride anyway.

“You can get killed walking down the street,” Roethlisberger told ESPN a year ago. “It’s a risk. Life is a risk.”

Winslow’s contract stipulated that he couldn’t ride a motorcycle. Roethlisberger’s didn’t.

If Roethlisberger did anything wrong, it was driving without a license. According to Pittsburgh television station KDKA, Roethlisberger had an expired learner’s permit to operate a motorcycle but never took the written and driving tests.

Team Protection

Either way, credit Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who didn’t forbid his player from doing what he wants, what he loves, for treating him like an adult. There are all sorts of restrictions in player contracts, ranging from skydiving to skiing to spelunking.

Make no mistake, though, those clauses are designed to protect the team’s financial interest — not the player’s ligaments.

You can be sure that Roethlisberger’s crash will lead to a new wave of contract restrictions. Here’s the catch: It won’t matter. The need for speed, so to speak, still needs an outlet.

“That yearning will probably express itself in other ways,” psychologist Murray said.

The world’s No. 1 golfer, Tiger Woods, six weeks ago won a celebrity stock-car race in New Zealand after crashing three times in an earlier race.

And no one whined about playing it safe when Tiger plunged 438 feet while bungee jumping.

`Live Once’

“I’ll only live once. It’s an adrenaline rush,” said Woods, who is preparing for the U.S. Open, which begins today. “I’ve never ridden a motorcycle, so I don’t know what the rush is there, but I’m sure there is.”

Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal sometimes rides a motorcycle. So does his former coach with the Lakers, Phil Jackson, and his current coach with the Heat, Pat Riley, who recalled slamming through a plate-glass window some time ago.

“Luckily I bailed before I hit,” Riley said. “It’s a tragic thing that happens to a lot of people.”

Luckily, Roethlisberger avoided tragedy, even though he wasn’t wearing a helmet. The law says he doesn’t have to wear one.

Roethlisberger underwent seven hours of surgery to repair multiple facial fractures. He also lost some teeth. Somehow he avoided damage to his brain, spine or internal organs.

If you want to be angry with someone, make it the lawmakers in Pennsylvania who three years ago amended the state’s statute to allow those 21 and older to ride without protective headgear.

Leave Roethlisberger alone.

You know what they say about falling off the horse. It’s his decision to ride again or keep it in the garage.

(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

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