Starkey: Big Ben a changed man? Who knows?

| Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011

Ben Roethlisberger has behaved in a socially acceptable manner for almost 10 months, near as anyone can tell.

Why that would merit praise, let alone glowing testaments, is beyond me.

But the testaments are rolling in and are sure to increase exponentially during Super Bowl week. Some will be out to unfairly crucify Roethlisberger, no doubt, but others will be out to unfairly extol him, sending their minions to Arlington, Texas, with one mission: Send back The Redemption of Roethlisberger story.

"Tell us how this guy rose from depravity to enlightenment," the TV man will say. "We'll open with a shot of Big Ben staring contemplatively toward the sky, while a beam of sunshine reflects off his face. We'll play 'Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen' in the background. It'll be incredible."

Oh, it's incredible, all right. But I'm talking about the growing sentiment among fans and media that Roethlisberger has undergone a radical personality transplant and has somehow proven people wrong.

Here I thought a 28-year-old man who is the face of one of sport's most iconic franchises was supposed to act normal.

How can anyone who barely knows Roethlisberger, and thousands more who've never met him, tell whether he has truly changed• For that matter, how can the people who know him best testify to such a thing when he obviously had them fooled before?

Somehow, Roethlisberger has become a sympathetic figure who, against all odds, has achieved personal salvation by completely and utterly transforming himself.

In 10 months.

Are we really this gullible?

Don't answer that.

I'm not saying Roethlisberger is the jerk he admittedly was before. He seemed pleasant enough this season. He may be partially transformed. He may be totally transformed. He may soon change his name to Mahatma Roethlisberger, or Ben Gandhi, for all I know.

But here's the point: I have no idea if he has truly, fundamentally changed as a human being, and neither do you. More to the point, I'm guessing most of you don't care, as long he stays out of trouble and continues to play championship-caliber quarterback.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

Winning makes the salvation story line work. If Roethlisberger's play had slipped this season, you can bet fans would be saying, "Ben needs to go back to his old personality; he's soft."

Only Roethlisberger knows if he is truly different. And only time will tell.

Give him and his handlers credit for this much, though. They obviously knew that perception would equate to reality in the minds of the masses, certainly in the minds of the media. They mapped out an excellent public relations campaign, and Big Ben followed it to a tee.

He kissed more babies, signed more autographs, did more charity work and changed his approach with reporters, who in turn gave him the "Chief Award," which goes to the Steelers player who cooperates best with media. It's an award Roethlisberger once mocked and boasted he would never win.

So, yes, some signs are good.

As for the Steelers, know this: They are not in the business of reforming people. They are in the business of winning football games. That's why I find it hard to believe they kept Roethlisberger last spring because they believed deep down that he was a good person who deserved another chance.

Rather, I'm thinking they kept him because he plays the most important position on the field and they'd have no chance at Super Bowl No. 7 without him.

If Santonio Holmes had been the troubled franchise quarterback and Roethlisberger the troubled receiver with an expiring contract, be sure that Roethlisberger would be gone.

Not that Holmes helped himself after being accused of throwing a drink at a woman. He kept being a nuisance. Roethlisberger, in the wake of a second sexual assault accusation in a year, was smart enough to start behaving as if he were a well-adjusted person.

Which he might be.

But let's not pretend we know.

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