Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has become accustomed to dealing with injuries throughout his playing career, a narrative that has become all too present a reminder this season with the significant injuries that have sidelined him this season. But none of them have scared him like the one that came on Sunday in Seattle when he suffered concussion-like symptoms.
In the first case that I am aware of made public—though certainly not the first overall—Roethlisberger self-reported his symptoms after coming off the field late in a critical close game in which his team was trailing, willingly entering the concussion protocol and taking himself off the field, when his teammates potentially needed him most.
And that is exactly what makes his decision so important, setting an example not just for his peers in the NFL, but for those who will come after him throughout the ranks of professional and amateur football, and other sports as well.
The 12-year veteran is using his platform to communicate a message to those who will listen, a message that he may have only fully understood while standing on that Seattle sideline. “You have to think about the type of man, husband and father you want to be when you are done playing”, he told reporters yesterday, “because this is such a short part of our lives”.
Perhaps Roethlisberger is not formally becoming a spokesperson on the issue. By this time next week, perhaps the questions will stop and he will simply stop talking about it. But what he had to say yesterday is something that I think a lot of people need to listen to:
I don’t want my teammates, my linemen, my running backs and everybody you’ve played with, when you have reunions, when we have this Super Bowl XL reunion however many years from now, I don’t want guys hobbling on the sidelines and drooling and not being able to remember things. So, I think we all need to speak up about it.
Roethlisberger concedes that had this been his younger self, an admittedly more brash, arrogant, naïve version of himself, he likely would have stayed in the game. He probably has played with a concussion before. Many NFL players likely have, perhaps even most. Which makes it all the more important that a voice such as his is heard.
“We need to be smarter as football players”, he said. When people ask him how much longer he wants to play, he tells them that he doesn’t want to think about the end of his career, “because I am cheating the right here and now. In a way it’s kind of the same thing. You don’t want to think about after football with your head, but you have to”.
Roethlisberger has come a very long way in his personal growth over the course of the past five years when he reached perhaps the lowest point in his life, but I don’t think he has ever impressed me more than with what he had to say yesterday.
We are blessed to be able to stand on a big platform and reach a lot of people. If you can touch or reach one person, I feel like it’s a successful day. So many young kids, middle school, high school or college, it’s tough to fight through a concussion. And it was tough when I first got in the league. It probably still is. But it’s not smart. That’s the one part of your body you shouldn’t mess with. You really shouldn’t.