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Starkey: No more Ben stories!

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Sunday, May 23, 2010
 

Enough with the Ben Roethlisberger stories.

Every time I turn around, somebody's telling me about the day Ben supposedly did this or the night Ben supposedly did that. It has become as irritating as the redhead's never-ending tales in "American Pie."

"This one time, at Ben camp ..."

It's a classic example of "heard" behavior -- as in, "I heard Ben yelled at a Giant Eagle checkout clerk five years ago." Piggybacking on legitimate accounts of Roethlisberger's boorish behavior, people are liable to tell you anything.

Ben triggered the stock-market meltdown.

Ben caused the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Ben played goal for the Penguins in Game 7.

Enough!

How about we let the recent Sports Illustrated cover piece serve as the last Big Ben expose we see for a while• It contained enough anecdotes to last at least through the bye week. (I'm guessing the cover shot -- a scruffy Roethlisberger pictured under the headline "The Hangover" -- won't be framed for Big Ben's man cave anytime soon.)

The story filled in the rest of the country on what a lot of us already knew: Roethlisberger often has behaved like an arrogant jerk during his six years as Steelers quarterback. That doesn't mean he committed any crimes. It just means he turned off a significant portion of the locker room and fan base, despite his mostly brilliant play.

Imagine if he were coming off a poor season.

I think it's a good thing Roethlisberger was exposed (resist punch line) over the past few months. If he isn't jarred into some form of humility by such a massive backlash -- on the heels of a second sexual assault allegation within a year -- then nothing will work.

What's amazing is that it took so long for stories of his ill-mannered ways to reach print. I never broached the matter, because I did not have on-the-record sources. A few weeks ago, I looked to see whether anything had been written on the topic from Roethlisberger's early years. I finally came across a piece in the Pittsburgh City Paper, for which local radio host Mark Madden deserves immense credit.

Madden, it seems, was the first media person to suggest Roethlisberger might not be the humble guy he seemed to be.

In a column titled "Is Ben getting too big for his britches?" that was published late in Roethlisberger's rookie year, Madden wrote of how "tales flow freely about Roethlisberger's ego growing proportionately to his accomplishments."

What sorts of tales?

Wrote Madden: "Roethlisberger snubbed the Pirates' Jason Bay, pointedly ignoring (Bay) when he came to Steelers headquarters for a Pirates-requested photo op. Chukky Okobi openly accused Roethlisberger, once a close friend, of 'big-timing' him since becoming a star. Roethlisberger berated a Steelers PR type for allowing a TV interview to run over the agreed-upon five minutes. Jerome Bettis told a reporter that the Steelers 'have some young guys who don't know what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler.' His eyes were fixed on Roethlisberger. All of these incidents were witnessed. None are mere rumor."

Then came a warning:

"Maybe you can't blame the kid for having a swelled cranium," Madden wrote. "He's just 22, and he's having perhaps the best season of any rookie in any sport ever. But it's the sort of thing the Steelers need to keep in check while it can still be controlled."

Whoops. That check bounced.

Five years later, credible sources are going on the record to speak of Roethlisberger's chronically appalling behavior. Mark Baranowski, owner of The Cabana Bar in Wexford, spoke to SI, then appeared on my radio show on 93.7 "The Fan."

"I know a lot of people in Pittsburgh, and (Roethlisberger) just treats everybody like crap," Baranowski said. "He doesn't respect anybody. Ben just feels like the city of Pittsburgh owes him, whether he goes to a golf course, a bar, a restaurant, a charity basketball game. I mean, it's story after story after story."

Fair enough, Mark -- and kudos for having the courage to say as much in a town where folks take their football very seriously.

But enough with the stories for now.

Let's see if Roethlisberger can write a new one.

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