Roethlisberger guilty of poor judgment



That latest sexual-assault allegation against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger?

I have great faith in our legal system. It will determine if Roethlisberger should be charged -- let alone found guilty -- as the result of an alleged incident early Friday morning with a 20-year-old college student at a dance club in Milledgeville, Ga. Until the case is resolved, I'm presuming Roethlisberger's innocence. All of us are presumed innocent until proven guilty, right?

This is a great country, America.

But I don't have to wait for the legal proceedings to fully take their course for me to pronounce Roethlisberger guilty of poor judgment.

What was he doing at a club -- a college bar, by all accounts -- at 2 a.m.?

The man turned 28 Tuesday.

Please, spare me the e-mails that Roethlisberger is an adult, entitled to spend his time away from football as he wishes. I won't disagree. But I will argue that any public figure, if he is smart, freely gives up some of that right because he knows how much he has to lose if he ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is only trouble out there at 2 a.m. That is especially true for someone with Roethlisberger's high-profile status.

I don't know what happened at the Capital City club in Milledgeville and won't even begin to speculate one way or the other. Investigators will determine what took place and decide if charges against Roethlisberger are warranted. But I do know that any big-time celebrity can't be too careful in public even if he is accompanied by friends, as Roethlisberger was Thursday night into Friday morning, according to Milledgeville police. There's always the chance of running into a guy who, perhaps bolstered by alcohol, is willing to challenge his toughness. There's also the chance of meeting a woman who is looking to capitalize financially on his fame.

Sadly, not everyone in this world has honorable intentions.

Other high-profile NFL quarterbacks seem to get that. When is the last time you heard of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Brett Favre or Drew Brees making the kind of headlines that Roethlisberger did Friday? The other sports stars in town also get it. When have the Penguins' Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Marc-Andre Fleury been linked to any kind of controversy? Or the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen, for that matter?

It's time Roethlisberger gets it, as well. It's time he grows up. He's no kid anymore. He needs to realize he's not just representing himself in public settings but also his family, the Steelers and his teammates.

I said it about kicker Jeff Reed last fall after he was involved in two alcohol-related incidents that resulted in police charges and I'll say it now about Roethlisberger, who has been accused of sexual assault for the second time in eight months: He has brought shame and embarrassment on the Steelers. We're talking about an organization that, in Roethlisberger's case, has invested $102 million in him and made him the face of the franchise. It's not hard to imagine the disappointment and anger that team president Art Rooney II and coach Mike Tomlin must have felt when they heard about Roethlisberger's situation Friday. It's also not hard to imagine that anger turning to fury if Roethlisberger is charged and then perhaps suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for conduct unbecoming of a pro football player. Goodell doesn't have to wait for a player's guilt or innocence to be determined to take such action.

But forget about what this incident could do to the Steelers. That seems irrelevant compared with what it means to Roethlisberger. Even if he isn't charged, he still loses. His reputation has taken another big hit. There will be damage even if he is cleared of all wrongdoing.

It was in July, right before the Steelers reported to training camp in Latrobe, that Roethlisberger first was accused of a sexual assault. A Nevada woman made the claim in a civil lawsuit, saying he raped her in July 2008 at a Lake Tahoe resort where he was appearing in a celebrity golf tournament. The woman worked as a hostess at the Nevada resort and said she didn't go to police after the alleged incident because she was "afraid of the consequences."

Roethlisberger showed up at the Steelers' South Side headquarters three days after the woman's allegation made national news and vehemently denied it, using words such as "false," "vicious," "outrageous" and "reckless."

The suit still has not been resolved.

"I would never, ever, force myself on a woman," Roethlisberger said that July day on the South Side.

Now, the man's word is being challenged again. This time, the woman immediately went to the police, then was treated at a local hospital.

The investigation continues.

No matter how that turns out, a lot of people won't ever look at Roethlisberger the same way again.


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. First Published March 7, 2010 5:00 AM


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