That Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t a particularly good teammate in his early years is certainly not a new narrative. But it’s unsurprising that the topic has come up again as a means of contrasting just what kind of leader he has developed into over the past few seasons.
That is what Dan Pompei turned the focus on yesterday in an article for Bleacher Report, in which Roethlisberger fully acknowledges the growth that has been necessary over the course of his career to escape from his own ego and become the teammate that now commands respect from an entire locker room.
Charlie Batch, Roethlisberger’s longtime backup, played a big role in helping to redirect the franchise quarterback down the right path. The article recounts an hours-long conversation that the two had over dinner in March of 2008, after he signed a $102-million contract.
He wanted to know how to be a better teammate, and Batch shared his wisdom with him. Batch helped guide him along the path and keep him grounded throughout much of his career, but certainly the shock of the 2010 sexual assault allegations served to scare him straight.
After that event, for which he was suspended four games, he settled down, personally and professionally. He got married, and has had two children since then, a boy and a girl. He plays for them now as much as he plays for himself and for his teammates.
And his teammates know now more than ever the value that he places in them, from the routine ritual of taking his offensive line out to dinner the night before games to funding entire trips to his Georgia home for groups of teammates to work out and relax, or for purely social reasons.
It’s worth noting that Batch also casts in a new light an incident that made headlines recently, which came out of the mouth of former Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall claimed that Roethlisberger was complicit in running up a restaurant bill as part of a rookie hazing, in this incident involving Tony Hills in 2008. Batch says that he and Roethlisberger were there to try to curtail the practice as much as possible, saying that Roethlisberger took Hills’ card, told the manager to charge what he could, and put the rest on his own card.
The bottom line is that, in his 12th season, the veteran understands now more than ever that this is his team. He runs the show, and it’s up to him to build up the players around him. He’s no longer the young, brash gunslinger surrounded by stalwart defenders who served as the locker room leaders and self-policing body.
His play on the field has long served to elevate those around him, but not only is he doing that now more than ever, he has also taken the next step, and is lifting up those around him in their personal lives as well.
He reached out to running back Le’Veon Bell after his arrest and following his suspension, keeping tabs on him and advising him on how to deal with his situation. He regularly bonds with his teammates over dinner, but he does so prodding them with questions driven to make them better, and asking how he can help them reach those goals that they set for themselves.
While the 2015 season may seem a bit of a culmination of a years-long trend, perhaps the truth is that a piece such as the one provided by Pompei has been due. This all isn’t a sudden change for the 33-year-old. It’s been a process of several years. But only after a strong season, as a team and individually, has it become en vogue. Roethlisberger is finally getting his due for the person that he has become on and off the field, and it’s about time.