Ben Roethlisberger issued no apology. He didn’t ask for forgiveness from his fans, and he didn’t lobby NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to reduce his six-game suspension.
What the Steelers quarterback said Thursday in his first comments since being suspended April 21 by the NFL were revealing: He’s ready to make major changes to a lifestyle that cast him as a role model for bad behavior by privileged pro athletes with a sense of entitlement.
"I’ve spent a lot of time evaluating and looking at my life both on and off the field,” Roethlisberger said in brief remarks following a Steelers voluntary practice. "I think this is a time for me to kind of close the chapter of the last couple of years of my life and move on to a new one, kind of a new start. I’m kind of really excited about it.”
Roethlisberger, accused twice of sexual assault in the last two years, pledged to make smarter decisions during what he called "the second chance” he’s received to turn around his life. He also said he’s working closely with Goodell to rehabilitate his lifestyle and repair an image that’s been tarnished by his boorish behavior.
Roethlisberger, known for frequenting nightclubs with an entourage of friends, did not specify what changes he is making.
"Well, a lot of them are personal things, which is just something that I need to do,” Roethlisberger said. "But it’s been neat being able to really reevaluate my life and spend time with my family and kind of reevaluate and refigure what’s important in life. … It’s a new chapter and I’m looking forward to it and it starts with football and I’m glad to be back out here.”
Roethlisberger did not apologize for his conduct in a Milledgeville, Ga., nightclub, where a college student accused him of sexually assaulting her March 5. But he said he has spent considerable time since then thinking about the type of person he wants to be.
"I’ve put a lot of thought into my life, the decisions that I’ve made in the past,” Roethlisberger said. "I’ve been sitting at home thinking about things, and I’ve been working closely with the commissioner on ways to make changes, corrections. I’m looking forward to the second chance and the second opportunity — not just in football, because I think everybody knows what you’re going to get (from me) in football, but in life. I think that’s kind of what’s more important.”
Roethlisberger offered no specifics about his dealings with Goodell, who ordered him to undergo an evaluation before clearing him to take part in the Steelers’ final few spring practices. On Wednesday, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin also said he and the team were working closely with the quarterback.
Goodell has the option of trimming the suspension to four games if Roethlisberger does all the league asks him to do. The NFL has not revealed any specifics.
"(I’m) evaluating what I need to do, and be smarter when it comes to certain things,” Roethlisberger said.
Previously, Roethlisberger’s only comments since the Georgia incident were a statement he read April 12 in the Steelers’ locker room after learning he wouldn’t be charged and another he issued April 26 after being suspended.
On Thursday, Roethlisberger made brief remarks, then took two questions before a team publicist cut off his news conference. Neither question dealt with the Georgia incident, which led to no criminal charges but shamed the two-time Super Bowl winner and caused a dramatic drop in his popularity with the Steelers’ sizable fan base.
While ticket sales weren’t affected — the Steelers have sold out every home game since 1972 and have a substantial season ticket waiting list — the team acknowledged the Roethlisberger incident cast the long-admired franchise in a bad light.
To repair that, Roethlisberger is promising to be more accessible — he rarely talks to Pittsburgh reporters for more than five minutes a week, except on game days — and to be a better teammate. He also thanked the Steelers players who have answered countless questions about him while he himself was silent for six weeks.
Roethlisberger, often brusque and short in the past when talking to reporters, appeared friendlier and more outgoing.
"It’s been a long time away, it’s been hard, but I’ve been putting a lot of time and effort and working hard both on and off the field while I’ve been gone,” Roethlisberger said. "I love football to death. I think it’s meant more to be out here with my teammates and my brothers, my family if you will, (and) that’s what’s really been neat about getting back out here.”
While the Steelers have three more voluntary practices next week, they have other team activities scheduled for two of them, so their on-field work is all but over until training camp starts July 30. Roethlisberger is permitted to take part in camp and preseason games, but cannot practice once the season starts and his suspension begins.
"It’s a new chapter and I’m looking forward to it,” Roethlisberger said.