Klis: Roethlisberger’s problem may have deep roots

Ben Roethlisberger was 8 years old, shooting baskets in his driveway, waiting for his mom to pick him up for the weekend when he received word.

Mom wasn’t going to make it.

While driving in to pick up her son, as she did every other weekend since her divorce from Ken six years earlier, Ida was involved in an accident with a pickup truck. She later died from the injuries.

Roethlisberger grew up to not only become a two-time Super Bowl-champion quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but someone who developed a disturbing pattern of mistreating women.

The recent allegations are so lewd, so horridly disrespectful of humanity that I can’t help but wonder if Roethlisberger’s afflictions are considerably more serious than having too much testosterone and a developed sense of entitlement.

I wonder if Roethlisberger, 28, doesn’t have a deep-seated problem that has been metastasizing since he was a child waiting in his driveway for mom.

As an angry public demands that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II deliver a multiple-game suspension for three alleged incidents accusing Roethlisberger of nonconsensual sex with three different women in the past two years, here’s hoping that along with punishment comes the understanding that Big Ben foremost needs help.

“One of the things we know about him is he’s a risk-taker,” said Jessica Lippman, a Chicago-based psychologist. “He absolutely plays on the edge. He rides a motorcycle without a helmet, and he almost destroys his career.”

Even on the field, Roethlisberger doesn’t play it safe. He keeps scrambling until he finally either makes a play or takes a sack. He’s by far the NFL’s most-sacked quarterback of the past four years, averaging 47.3 per season.

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“He’s always been a star athlete; he’s always been treated special,” Lippman said. “But underneath all that you have a life motif which is: ‘Look what happened to me. My mom died.’

“I don’t know him, but does he feel responsible in some way because his mother was on the way to pick him up? Does he feel like he deserves bad things to happen to him? So he places himself in the position of taking risks.

“This is where the magic thinking comes in: ‘If I take the risk, and I come out of it OK, I’m not bad. But if I take the risk and something dastardly happens to me, do I deserve this?’ “

Lippman has co-authored two books — one on helping children cope with a parent’s death, and the other on divorce and its effect on children. Her expertise is at the heart of the two primary issues Roethlisberger has been dealing with — or not dealing with — since childhood.

When Ben was in his driveway waiting for mom, his stepmom Brenda was rebounding for him. I got to know Roethlisberger’s parents, Ken and Brenda, during a visit to his hometown of Findlay, Ohio, before Super Bowl XL.

When some of the hideous details regarding Roethlisberger’s advances on a young woman in a Georgia nightclub were released, my reaction was not that of outrage but sympathy for his parents and his sister.

Don’t get me wrong, I do feel Roethlisberger should be punished. His accusers have parents too. It’s just that Roethlisberger’s problems — is it too strong to call it an illness? — are not the result of an unloved upbringing. He was raised with old-fashioned, middle-America values.

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Which is why his conduct is so shocking, until you consider all the love, discipline and kindness isn’t going bring back his mom.

“Anytime you’re a kid and your parent passes, it’s tough,” Ben told me during Super Bowl XL media day in Detroit. “I was truly blessed to have my father and stepmom, who I call ‘Mom’ now, to be there loving me.”

It was a mature answer for someone who, underneath his rugged, manly exterior, may be unknowingly living each day “wondering what is wrong with him,” Lippman said.

His parents divorced when he was 2. Was he the reason? His mom died when he was 8. On her way to pick him up. I think Ben needs help.