Teammates say Ben's apology not necessary

August 1, 2009 9:03:11 PM PDT
Ben Roethlisberger quickly moved to make sure his problems don't become those of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Roethlisberger apologized to his teammates for causing a possible distraction, then answered questions Saturday for the first time since being named as the defendant in a Nevada civil lawsuit that accuses him of sexual assault.

He declined to discuss his legal problems, or even acknowledge them, saying, "I'm playing football."

Then Roethlisberger said it again, as if to emphasize there will be no questions answered during training camp about any issue other than the Steelers.

"This is what I do, it's football," Roethlisberger said after being asked if he could stay focused. "I don't know what you're talking about. It's football."

The two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback became testy when he sensed he would be asked again about the civil suit, saying, "Any other football questions? I can walk away if we want."

Roethlisberger's 10-minute question-and-answer session Saturday was his first since the suit was filed. He read a statement defending himself during a brief news conference on Aug. 23, several days after what he called "reckless and false" allegations were made by a resort hotel employee, but he declined then to answer questions.

While Roethlisberger faces no criminal charges, he is aware the lawsuit could potentially prove disruptive if it lasts well into the season. Three years ago, Roethlisberger's preseason motorcycle crash and appendectomy caused on- and off-field problems that lasted well into the season, and the Steelers never recovered from a 2-6 start and missed the playoffs.

With the Steelers focused on avoiding such a slip-up this time, Roethlisberger stood up at the annual team meeting that begins training camp and said he was sorry, but many teammates said his apology wasn't necessary.

Several players said they are angry about the allegations, even though they know only one side of the story.

"That's crazy, man, he doesn't have to say that to me," nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "I know how the world is. In today's society, if anybody says anything, you're guilty until you're proven innocent. I know Ben and the type person he is, and I ain't even going to say anything about it (or) I'm going to go off."

Steelers center Justin Hartwig is unhappy that Roethlisberger is being judged publicly before any facts are revealed.

"Unfortunately the court of public opinion judges and that's just the way it is, whether it's fair or not," he said.

Troy Polamalu shrugged off the potential impact of the Roethlisberger suit, saying it has nothing to do with football and that NFL players regularly deal with off-field problems.

"I don't think it's a distraction for the team or him, either. I think Ben has had to handle a lot more stuff outside of football than anybody on this team, probably," Polamalu said. "That just comes with the territory. He's become accustomed to that lifestyle and it will be easy for him to separate the two issues."

Few NFL players like the endless practices and spartan, dorm-room lifestyle of a training camp held on a college campus like Pittsburgh's, but Ward said "it's kind of our safe haven" in these kind of situations.

"When we step on the field, it's about football," Ward said. "I know Ben, and he's looking forward to coming out here and competing. We don't see Ben being a distraction."

Roethlisberger apparently plans to handle the situation the way he does other potential distractions.

"Do the best you can, smile and go," he said.

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