Gorman: Lost opportunity for Roethlisberger

Kevin Gorman
| Tuesday, June 22, 2010

With Mike Tomlin serving as moderator, football campers were free to ask anything of special guest Heath Miller.

The Steelers' Pro Bowl tight end must have been caught off-guard by one question:

Do you have a bodyguard?

Ben Roethlisberger's name is no longer associated with what is now known as the Coach Tomlin Football Camp, but it was a telling display of the damage Roethlisberger has done to his reputation.

Kids know that Roethlisberger has been run through the wringer since March 5, when — in the company of two law-enforcement officers serving as bodyguards — he was accused of (but not charged with) sexually assaulting a 20-year-old woman at a nightclub in Milledgeville, Ga.

Miller handled it deftly, asking, "No ... are you looking to help me out?"

After relying on self-serving, sit-down interviews with hand-picked local television stations, Roethlisberger could have used the camp to begin repairing his image in front of his most impressionable fans.

Instead, Monday was another example of the Steelers covering for their franchise quarterback amid the chronicling of boorish behavior that recently brought Roethlisberger a No. 3 ranking in a Forbes magazine poll of the most-hated men in sports.

"This is normally a camp that Ben does," Miller said. "Obviously, he wasn't able to do it this year, so we'll all step in and pick up the slack for him."

The move to replace Roethlisberger with Tomlin and rename the camp was fallout from the conditional six-game suspension the NFL handed Roethlisberger in April after two sexual assault accusations in nine months.

It was a collective decision, one that served both the interests of the sponsors and Roethlisberger's charitable foundation, over concerns that parents would resist sending their children to a camp run by the Steelers quarterback. It's one that apparently is killing Roethlisberger, who is said to love the camp but was advised that the wounds still were too fresh.

They found a good replacement in Tomlin.

The 38-year-old father of three bounced from drill to drill and playfully interacted with the campers, ages 7-14 — including his two sons — yesterday at Mars High School.

"Are you kidding• I coach kids every day because I've got three waiting in the driveway for me when I get home from work, two of which are out here," Tomlin said. "We're parents first. What I do is what I do. Dad is who I am. Working with kids is a passion of mine. I happen to get a lot of work at it, a lot of opportunity to get better at it. We're doing that here."

The Steelers coach said he was only baby-sitting, that it was his "full intention" for Roethlisberger to headline the camp next year, and he objected to an assertion that the switch was meant to rehabilitate the Steelers' image.

"We're not interested in rehabilitation," Tomlin said. "We're just interested in doing what's right by these young folks. We're looking forward to these three days. I'm glad to be a part of it.

"This really has nothing to do with what's going on with us professionally as a football team or organization."

That's the shame of it, really.

Too often we put professional athletes on a pedestal, only to pounce upon their mistakes when learning from them would be more beneficial. It's understandable that no one wants to be associated with negative publicity when it's easier for companies to distance themselves from trouble.

But what kind of message does that send?

The youth football camp would have been the perfect venue for Roethlisberger to show some accountability by making himself available to young Steelers fans. What was lost was a chance to humanize Roethlisberger, to let him show children the lesson of admitting that we all make mistakes and the importance of picking yourself up after falling down.

"Hopefully," Miller said, "this will be a lasting experience for these kids that they'll remember for awhile."

No doubt they will.

You just wonder what kind of message was sent.

If the campers ever get in trouble, will they show up and answer for it or expect someone else to step in and pick up the slack?

Additional Information:

Big Ben's bad ranking

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the third most-hated man in sports, according to a Forbes magazine poll.

He received a 57 percent disapproval rating.

For the second consecutive year, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick ranked No. 1 at 69 percent, and Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis was second at 66 percent. Jerry Jones and Tiger Woods (53 percent) tied for fourth.

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