Steelers' Roethlisberger must act like a leader now


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Nobody knows what is going to happen to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It has been four weeks since a 20-year-old Georgia college student accused him of sexual assault, and there's no resolution to the case in sight.

Maybe investigators will decide they don't have enough evidence to prosecute Roethlisberger, and the whole sad, ugly situation will go away. Or maybe he will be charged of a crime and then suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for violating the players' code of conduct. Or maybe Roethlisberger will be convicted, surely meaning the premature end of his days with the Steelers after two Super Bowls in his six seasons with the team.

Until the case is resolved one way or another, don't you want to see Roethlisberger get on with his life instead of remaining in virtual seclusion?

Don't you want to see him back at the Steelers' South Side headquarters with his teammates, getting ready for next season?

Isn't that where he belongs as a team leader?

Roethlisberger's absence Monday at the start of the Steelers' voluntary offseason conditioning program made all of the national news shows -- even on a day when the story broke that teammate Santonio Holmes, the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII, was named in a civil lawsuit after an alleged assault incident March 7 at a club in Orlando, Fla.

Camera crews camped out at the team's compound, looking to get the first glimpse of Roethlisberger since he was accused of the sexual assault in Milledgeville, Ga., in the early hours of March 5. It was the second such allegation in eight months against Roethlisberger, who was accused of rape in a civil suit filed by a Nevada woman in July 2009. That suit, based on an alleged incident in Lake Tahoe a year earlier, continues to work its way through the legal system.

Apparently, Roethlisberger and Steelers officials decided his presence at the workouts and team meetings this week would be too much of a distraction for the rest of the squad. Coach Mike Tomlin has said he talks with Roethlisberger every day. But there's no word on when Roethlisberger will show up at the team's facility.

It needs to be sooner rather than later for a couple of reasons.

One, based on pictures taken of Roethlisberger on the night of the alleged incident in Georgia, it looks as if he could use the exercise. Did you see them? They are all over the Internet. Try to get past the shirt with Satan on it that Roethlisberger was wearing. Doesn't it look as if he weighs about 300 pounds? A camera can make you look heavier, but that was ridiculous.

And two, Roethlisberger needs to be with his teammates. It's OK if, say, wide receiver Hines Ward or safety Troy Polamalu doesn't make all of the sessions. Not so with Roethlisberger. He is the Steelers' leader, if only because he plays the most important position on the field. His teammates need to see him start preparing for next season as if he did nothing wrong. They need to know he is planning on being with them all season.

As for that distraction business, it will go away after one day. The media will be satisfied if they get their shots of Roethlisberger making the alleged-perp walk into Steelers headquarters. If he stops to take football-related questions -- as he did at training camp last summer after news of the civil suit broke -- great. If he doesn't stop and says later through a team spokesman that he can't talk about an on-going criminal investigation, that's fine, too. The media will move on and the Steelers can go about their business of trying to get ready for next season after what has been a brutal start to the offseason.

The next significant day for Roethlisberger -- at least as far as the Steelers are concerned -- is April 19. That is the first day of the team's organized team activities, which include practice sessions without pads. It's nice to think the Georgia case will be resolved by then. But if it's not, it doesn't matter. Roethlisberger needs to be there. His professional life must go on.


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 April 2, 2010 4:00 AM


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