Big Ben’s Big Mistake

There are many positives to take away from Monday’s car/motorcycle accident involving Ben Roethlisberger. Early indications are that Roethlisberger’s condition could have been much worse, that the surgery to repair multiple facial fractures went well, and that he should be able to resume his job as the quarterback of the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers by the time they open the NFL season on September 7 against the Miami Dolphins. (Big Ben vs. Daunte — two QBs trying to prove they can come back from injuries? Good opener, NFL and NBC.)

The bigger positive is the spotlight the accident shines on the importance for motorcyclists to wear helmets while riding. Roethlisberger was not wearing a helmet, and he has gone on record — despite warnings from his head coach and former Steeler QB Terry Bradshaw — as preferring to ride sans helmet. Hopefully multiple facial fractures, a broken jaw, and the knowledge that he could have suffered far worse injuries to his brain will cause him to rethink his position.

I’m not a big believer in denying people rights. I don’t agree with NFL teams including clauses in contracts that completely forbid their players from riding motorcycles (Browns TE Kellen Winslow, Jr. broke such a clause and lost $3 million when he was injured in a motorcycle accident in May 2005). I can even understand the liberating appeal of riding without a helmet. I just don’t think feeling the wind in your hair is worth the risk of feeling your brain leave your head after a head-on collision with a Chrysler New Yorker.

Undoubtedly Big Ben’s accident will result in NFL teams getting tougher on players who insist on riding motorcycles. Perhaps even a league-wide helmet mandate will result. But the best outcome would simply be an awareness among motorcycle riders of how senseless it is to ride without a helmet. No one is suggesting that motorcycle riders are less safe than other drivers, but cycle riders are more vulnerable to all of those inattentive drivers out there who operate their vehicles while talking on cell phones, eating McChickens, or just plain daydreaming.

I was surprised to learn that only 20 states (and D.C.) have a law that requires all motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Wisconsin is not among them. Seems like it should be. (Can you imagine if this accident had happened to Brett Favre? The helmet law would be passed before Favre could be discharged from the hospital.)

Oh, the other positive that came out of this story? It forced ESPN to cease their World Cup coverage for a few minutes.

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