One year ago Ben Roethlisberger was the talk of the NFL for all the wrong reasons. The Pittsburgh Steelers' franchise quarterback faced his second sexual assault allegation in two years in addition to a huge image crisis.
Roethlisberger's public persona was so much in the dumps that even controversial rapper Eminem ripped the embattled quarterback in one of his songs.
Endorsements dried up and a suspension was looming. Roethlisberger quickly went from hero to villain in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers were not happy about it. Not only that, Roethlisberger and the Steelers missed the playoffs in 2009 and flopped in defense of the team's sixth championship.
Down to his last strike, you wondered if Roethlisberger could recover. But one year later that dark cloud has lifted, and Roethlisberger has done a great job in a short time of getting his life and image back on track.
On the field, Roethlisberger was within a touchdown drive of winning his third Super Bowl, which certainly sped up the process. But off the field he put a genuine effort into becoming a better teammate and more personable. In another significant step in Roethlisberger's life, he's getting married to his fiancé, Ashley Harlan, on July 23.
Now Roethlisberger is having a very quiet offseason for the first time in years, and that is exactly what he needs to continue his successful transformation.
"I think he's done a good job," said Chris Rosica, who is head of Rosica Public Relations in New Jersey, which specializes in image consulting for celebrities. "It's clearly been his actions that have led to the alteration in his image, and that's important."
George Regan, chairman of Regan Communications Group in Boston, agrees that Roethlisberger has done a lot to improve his image over the past 12 months.
"Whoever has been advising him has done a very good job," said Regan, whose company was recently rated the ninth-largest public relations firm in the nation. "And I believe that Roethlisberger's been very genuine and has gone through a lot of growing pains. Now he's finally starting to grow up."
How far has Roethlisberger come since last April? Here is a sample of what Steelers fans in our community had to say about Roethlisberger one year ago:
"Roethlisberger cannot be trusted to do what is right for the Steelers," said James Elias from Denver. "He is extremely immature and egocentric, not to mention sleazy. He considers himself first, second, and always. The Steelers are not to be considered."
"I'm embarrassed," Clive from Pittsburgh said. "I'm embarrassed that my team, as class act a franchise as there is in all of sports, has been blemished by his lack of intelligent decision-making.”
"I will always be a Steeler fan, but unless Big Ben changes I'll never be a fan of his," wrote Paul Rainey of Youngstown, Ohio.
"Ben has a proven track record of poor judgment and questionable behavior,” said Pete Ellenzweig of Portland, Ore. "The Steelers gave Roethlisberger a long-term contract worth over $100 million. All they have asked in return is that he lead on the field, act responsibly in public and uphold the good reputation of the organization. Ben has failed two of these three expectations miserably."
Since then Roethlisberger has done and said all the right things. Certainly there will be a sector of people not willing to forgive and forget Roethlisberger's prior transgressions. But in the past year he hasn't given anyone additional ammunition.
Teammates have praised Roethlisberger's newfound demeanor, and he has done a lot of charity work in Pittsburgh as well. Roethlisberger hinted last season that it would be his goal to set a much better example in the future. So far, so good for the two-time Super Bowl winner.
"I absolutely want to be the leader this team deserves, valued in the community and a role model to kids," Roethlisberger said last year. "I have much work to do to earn this trust. And I'm committed to improving and showing everyone my true values."
WoodsAccording to image consultants, the public is often very forgiving and enjoys a good redemption story. Roethlisberger, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and professional golfer Tiger Woods are among the biggest athletes who have been celebrated for making good strides toward restoring their images following recent scandals.
Roethlisberger lost many of his endorsements last year. But Rosica believes the quarterback is on his way to becoming marketable again.
Vick"Now is the ideal time for a company to come back, as long as they are confident he's going to [stay out of trouble], be tactful in his words and his actions and be consistent with what he's demonstrated over the past year," Rosica said. "This season is the time. If I'm a corporate sponsor, I would be looking at that."
The general sentiment is that Roethlisberger is doing a good job, but his image remains a work in progress. For athletes in the public eye, a fractured reputation cannot be fully restored in one year. Roethlisberger also cannot afford any additional mishaps.
This week we asked Rosica what type of grade Roethlisberger deserved for this past year, considering the tough circumstances.
"Frankly, I'd give him a B-plus," Rosica said. "While there certainly are other things he could have done, he's done the most important things, which are to stay focused, perform his job and be acutely aware of his words and his actions."