Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Big Ben Very Lucky

Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, was recently hurt in a motorcycle crash. Luckily, his injuries aren't that serious, after they were originally feared to be, and he may be well enough to be with the Steelers when they start training camp soon.

But his crash is bringing many issues to the forefront, including whether teams which shell out millions of dollars should insert clauses barring specific activities [they already have a "dangerous activity" clause] which can result in their high-priced investments missing time.

Personally, I don't think they should. The dangerous clause should be enough to recoup for dangerous actions taken by players, and to restrict the off-season activities of players seems unfair to me. I'm not saying teams cannot put in such clauses - obviously, they're within their rights to protect themselves as they see fit, and players are not being forced to sign contracts. But teams should allow players to pursue off-season activity which they find enjoyable. As the Browns' GM Phil Savage noted:
"I wish all our players liked board games or low-risk hobbies," Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage said Tuesday. "Unfortunately, that's part of the reason that makes these guys professional athletes. They have a little bit of an edge to want to do more, seek more. Where's the line? I don't know that."
I think the line is when they are doing something illegal or obviously risky. The Browns' 1st-round pick of two years ago, Kellen Winslow, crashed his motorcycle last year doing loops in a parking lot without a license at 50mph and no training. He deserved to lose many of the incentives in his contract; in the end, the Browns decided to turn the money into performance-based incentives, which means that if he turns out to be as great as they expect him to be he can earn his money. If he does not... he loses it.

Ironically, it was after Winslow's crash that "Big Ben" Roethlisberger was asked by his team and teammates to stop riding his motorcycle as he did. Roethlisberger insisted that he rides in groups that are considered "safer" and though he does not wear a helmet, he pointed to Pennsylvania's repealing of the law that riders wear helmets. This one is tricky: Driving without a helmet is obviously not as safe, but not enough that the state felt it should have a law. Is that "dangerous"?

But more important is the little-mentioned fact surrounding Roethlisberger's crash: His motorcycle permit had expired when he never took the proper tests by March. That means he was riding illegally, without a helmet, and - contrary to what he said he does - by himself. He's very lucky, because he was being very stupid.

Teams shouldn't have to have clauses banning dangerous activity. Players should be smart enough to know what they shouldn't be doing. Riding as Roethlisberger did is just plain old dumb.