Ben Roethlisberger has been in the headlines recently for everything but football.
In March, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback was accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year old woman while bar hopping in Milledgeville, Ga. On Monday, Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright announced that Roethlisberger would not face criminal charges.
“Here the overall circumstances do not lead to a viable prosecution. If they did, I would be pursuing it vigorously,” Bright said. “We do not prosecute morals. We prosecute crimes.”
Bright may not prosecute morals, but one person certainly does: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Roethlisberger issued a statement yesterday, and Goodell is set to meet with him today to discuss this incident, and an incident involving the quarterback last July. Andrea McNulty filed a civil suit against Roethlisberger last summer stemming from alleged sexual assault during the weekend of a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Calif. No criminal charges were filed, and the case is still pending.
Goodell hasn’t been shy about playing sheriff when it comes to handing out discipline to NFL players. He’s made it clear that NFL players who get into trouble with the law off the field – even if it doesn’t lead to a conviction – can and will receive punishments on the field.
Adam “Pacman” Jones was suspended for the entire 2007 season for multiple arrests, even though none of them led to a conviction. The late Chris Henry was suspended for eight games that season for repeated off-the-field issues. After those suspensions, Goodell wrote both Jones and Henry…
“Your conduct has brought embarrassment and ridicule upon yourself, your club, and the NFL, and has damaged the reputation of players throughout the league… you have engaged in conduct detrimental to the NFL and failed to live up to the standards expected of NFL players.”
Whether he’s guilty or innocent, it’s safe to say Roethlisberger has failed to live up to those standards as well. He’s put himself in situations that a franchise quarterback and professional athlete should never be in.
Which means Goodell has to suspend him. At the very least, Roethlisberger has shown a pattern of bad judgment, and Goodell has shown little sympathy for that.
The way Goodell handles Roethlisberger will be telling. Roethlisberger is a quarterback for one of the best and most storied franchises in the NFL. He’s funny, great with the media, a two-time Super Bowl winner, and one of the premiere faces of the league. His actions weren’t as deplorable as a Michael Vick’s, and prior to these recent incidents Roethlisberger was generally liked by the football public.
If Roethlisberger leaves the meeting without a suspension in the four-game range, it’s going to lead to plenty of well-deserved questions of the Commissioner and whether he has a bias towards African-American players. With the billions of dollars in revenue the NFL makes, and the wide range of fans of all demographics that watch the sport, it’s important for Goodell to show consistency with his punishments.
And if Roethlisberger does somehow escape suspension, what will the Steelers do? The Steelers have shown they won’t tolerate bad off-the field behavior either, as they were quick to ship out troubled receiver Santonio Holmes just two years after he won the Super Bowl MVP.
The Steelers released a statement on their website Monday stating that they are awaiting the NFL’s decision before deciding on the actions they’ll take against Roethlisberger. If Goodell goes light on Roethlisberger, the onus will be on the Steelers to take action.
When Goodell became Commissioner in 2006, he made it a point to clean up bad behavior by the league’s players. This point has led him to set a precedent, where it doesn’t matter if you’re necessarily guilty; it matters if you’re representing the NFL in a negative light.
If Roethlisberger doesn’t get suspended, it’ll prove that those rules don’t apply to everyone.