The Wright Angle
June 19, 2006

Bradshaw, Big Ben and a biker's brain

By Scott Wright

Personally, I think you'd have to be crazier than a carload of clowns on crack to ride a motorcycle in the first place, much less without a helmet. Actually, there was one time I almost let my friend Gary talk me into hopping on the back of his little wingless, two-wheeled rocket ship. But at the last second, just as I was about to swing my leg over the seat, it occurred to me that I WASN'T TOTALLY OUT OF MY EVER-LOVING MIND!!!

It wasn't that I didn't trust Gary. Rather, I don't trust people like me who drive around in their cars fiddling with their stereos and adjusting their rearview mirrors and not paying attention to people like Gary. Also, I simply can't get right with the idea of riding around on something so small and fast that most drivers in automobiles don't even see you coming.

I have several cycling friends, all of whom love their little crotch rockets. And for the most part, they're intelligent, thoughtful riders who (generally) obey the traffic laws, watch out for the people who aren't watching out for them, and wear the proper protective gear. Why, even our very own Tim Sanders is a helmet-wearing Harley-Davidson handler of some repute. (I know. Surprised me, too, the first time I found out. Wouldn't know it to look at him, would you?)

But enough about Tiny Tim, let's talk about Big Ben. Witnesses to the crash that left the Pittsburgh Steelers passer eating pudding for the next few weeks say Mr. Roethlisberger wasn't speeding or goofing off last Monday when he wrapped his Suzuki Caboosa (or whatever) around some nice old lady's Oldsmobuick.

If I had to guess, I'd say the lady who sacked my favorite quarterback was probably trying to put away her Lawrence Welk eight-track, or dabbing at her make-up, or trying to figure out a way to get her beloved Cleveland Browns one step closer to the AFC North title this fall (mission accomplished?). Regardless, she turned right in front of the only quarterback the Steelers have had in 40 years who can spell "Roethlisberger" without being spotted the "Roethlis" and the "berger." Next thing our Super Bowl hero knows, he's nostrils-first into the windshield, with a mouthful of teeth.

(According to the June 15 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roethlisberger was discharged from the hospital Wednesday and is expected to be ready to play in the team's season opener on Sept. 7 against Miami. He has also apologized to his teammates and fans for choosing not to wear a helmet. He says he will wear a helmet next time he rides a motorcycle, if he ever rides one again.)

An editorial in the Wednesday edition of USA Today ripped into Big Ben pretty good for not wearing a helmet and I'd do the same if I thought he'd ever come across a copy of The Post. But I figure his parents have laid it to him pretty heavy, reminding him that, as USA Today pointed out, Roethlisberger "is no ordinary biker. He's a role model with responsibilities to his teammates, fans and community." Hopefully, USA Today concluded, Roethlisberger will get that through his "thankfully thick skull" before he climbs back onto a motorcycle without first tightening the chin strap on a crash helmet.

As is customary on the op/ed page in USA Today, the paper offered an opposing view from an organization that disagrees with its editorial board's position. In last Wednesday's edition, the "crash helmets suck" argument was delivered by Charles C. Umbenbauer, lobbyist for Pennsylvania ABATE (Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education).

Mr. Umbenbauer claimed helmets and laws mandating their use are "annoying to adult bikers wise enough about their own safety." He claimed laws mandating helmet use at all times "have no significant effect on safety of motorcycling in general."

USA Today validated the ridiculousness of this seemingly ridiculous declaration with the following statistics: "Helmets reduce the likelihood of a motorcycle fatality by 37 percent," and "bikers who do not wear helmets are three times more likely to suffer brain injuries that those who do ." USA Today also pointed out that between 1984 and 2002, the use of helmets "saved $19.5 billion in economic costs, and an additional $14.8 billion would have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets."

Mr. Umbenhauer and his organization, on the other hand, were much more worried about personal freedom than personal safety. "Mandatory helmet laws are annoying and unnecessary," he said, because "a small minority of citizens would prefer to make their own decisions on an issue that has no effect on anyone else."

No effect on anyone else? Try and sell that steaming load to Steelers Nation, you knucklehead!

Cowboys fans used to make fun of former Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw's intelligence, but he's got a whole handful of Super Bowl rings in his wall safe and he once gave Big Ben the smartest cycling advice he never listened to: "Ride it when you retire," Bradshaw told Ben last year. "Those things are dangerous."

Indeed, T.B., as the statistics printed in USA Today plainly illustrate. Too bad there are people like Mr. Umbenbauer who advance the nearsighted notion that helmet laws infringe upon individual liberties. Too bad for Steelers fans, anyway, because Big Ben was one of the guys who listened to Umbenbauer's B.S. and ended up with more metal in his face than the front row at a Sex Pistols concert.

Maybe Roethlisberger will learn from this incident and become a spokesman for motorcycle safety. Surely, he'll admit a helmet isn't anywhere near as much an affront to his personal space as an automobile traveling directly towards him at 35 mph. And if you're a biker who doesn't think wearing a helmet is cool, maybe the extremely uncool thought of a Super Bowl-winning QB's bare ass hanging out the back of an ill-fitting hospital gown will make you think twice about not covering your own thick skull.

Scott Wright is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and an award-winning member of the Society of Professional Journalists. He is a native of Cherokee County.