Life isn't fair in the NFL

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Has it really been just one year, 70 days since Ben Roethlisberger threw that spectacular last-minute, 6-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes to beat the Arizona Cardinals, a play that made Roethlisberger a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback and Holmes the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII?

It seems like 100 years, 70 days.

Sadly, the past 435 days have been packed with much more than just enough losing football for the Steelers to go 9-7 and miss the playoffs last season. You might have heard something about Roethlisberger facing sexual assault allegations in two states. You probably also know Holmes was accused of assault for allegedly throwing a glass of liquor in a woman's face in an Orlando, Fla., club March 7, his fourth incident involving police intervention since the Steelers made him their No. 1 draft choice in 2006.

To think, we used to laugh at the Cincinnati Bengals and their legal problems.

Well, people across America are howling at the Steelers these days.

Surely, the laughs can be heard all the way to Dublin, where the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Dan Rooney, has to be some kind of ticked.

That's why it came as no surprise late Sunday night when news broke that Holmes had been traded to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft pick. As a football trade, that stinks. The Steelers took less for Holmes just to get rid of him.

But good news appears to be coming. ESPN has reported that Georgia district attorney Fred Bright will not bring criminal charges against Roethlisberger from the second alleged incident, this one involving a 20-year college student March 5 in Milledgeville, Ga. If that report is true -- if Bright says during a 2 p.m. news conference today that there isn't enough evidence to prosecute Roethlisberger -- it will be one of the most significant days in Steelers history. The team and its star quarterback can get back to their business and start preparing for the 2010 season.

A much-needed sense of normalcy will return to the Steelers' South Side headquarters.

Roethlisberger still is facing a civil lawsuit from an alleged sexual assault case in July 2008, in Lake Tahoe, Nev. He also still could be disciplined by the NFL for violating its Personal Conduct Policy. Commissioner Roger Goodell has requested a meeting with him, saying he is "concerned that Ben continues to put himself in this position." Goodell can't be pleased that Roethlisberger has brought shame on the NFL brand. It's reasonable to think Roethlisberger will be ordered to undergo counseling, at the very least.

The Steelers also aren't happy with Roethlisberger. "Highly concerned," is the phrase coach Mike Tomlin has used. It's possible that Tomlin will discipline Roethlisberger with a brief suspension for conduct detrimental to the team, if only to show that he still has control over his players.

That's why Roethlisberger needs to get back to the Steelers' compound and start making things right, not just with the Rooneys and Tomlin, but with his teammates. He should be there this week for the team's offseason conditioning workouts. Certainly, he should be there April 19 when Tomlin holds the first of his organized team activities, which include on-field practices.

Roethlisberger is the quarterback, right?

He is lucky. A lesser player would have been released. Franchise quarterbacks get much more leniency. They're just too hard to replace.

Roethlisberger also will be able to win back his fans quickly. Most will forget all about his legal troubles the second he starts playing good football and the Steelers start winning games. It won't take any longer than his first touchdown pass for him to get Heinz Field rocking.

Holmes, on the other hand, did not land in such a soft spot. At least not in Pittsburgh.

It didn't matter that Holmes' attorney, Adam Swickle, says he has proof that another man threw the glass in the woman's face in Orlando. The Steelers were furious because of Holmes' past problems -- charges of disorderly conduct, domestic violence and marijuana possession were dropped against him in three separate incidents -- and because of some outrageous comments he made on Twitter after news of the Orlando allegation broke. There also was an unconfirmed report this past weekend on ProFootballTalk.com that he will be suspended for four games by the NFL for violating its substance-abuse policy.

Clearly, the Steelers decided enough was enough.

It's a lot easier to make a tough stand with a wide receiver -- even a Super Bowl MVP -- than it is with the star quarterback.

No, that might not be fair.

But who said life is fair?


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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