Steelers or NFL must suspend Roethlisberger


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The NFL suspended former Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes Monday for the first four games of the 2010 season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be lucky if he doesn't get just as much time off from the NFL or from the Rooneys for violating the sensibilities of decent people everywhere.

If Roethlisberger isn't suspended for at least two games for his despicable behavior in Milledgeville, Ga., last month, there is no justice in the NFL.

Roethlisberger appears to get that, at least. It didn't take him long to swing into damage-control mode. He made his first public appearance at Steelers headquarters Monday night and read a brief statement to the media, saying he is "truly sorry" for the negative attention he brought to the team and the league. He acknowledged he has "much work" to do to win back the trust of Steelers management, his coaches and teammates and the fans. He pledged to make all concerned "proud on all fronts."

The statement was predictable.

Too bad it didn't seem to contain much contrition.

You have to wonder what Roethlisberger sees when he looks in the mirror every morning. Here's guessing he doesn't see a 28-year-old lout who needs to grow up in a hurry and become a respectable human being. If that's the case, he's lying to himself.

Funny, "grow up" is exactly the advice Georgia district attorney Fred Bright gave Roethlisberger when he announced Monday he was not charging him in the sexual assault case involving a 20-year-old college student March 5 at a Milledgeville club because of a lack of enough evidence to get a conviction and because the alleged victim didn't want to pursue the case.

Never have two more appropriate words been uttered about anyone.

They are worth repeating:

"Grow up."

Bright portrayed Roethlisberger as a real creep during his news conference. He said Roethlisberger "provided shots of alcohol" for the alleged underaged victim and her friends. He also said Roethlisberger invited the "highly intoxicated" alleged victim into the club's VIP area and later followed her into a small bathroom.

"Significant questions about what had occurred [after that] persist," Bright said.

The only way Roethlisberger could have looked worse Monday is if Bright had filed criminal charges against him.

"We are not condoning Mr. Roethlisberger's actions that night," Bright said. "But we do not prosecute morals. We prosecute crimes."

The NFL has no such limitations. Nor do the Steelers. It is up to one or the other to do the right thing and suspend Roethlisberger for at least two games. His immature, reprehensible behavior has done great harm to the league's brand and to the Steelers' reputation.

Saying "sorry" isn't enough.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is scheduled to meet with Roethlisberger this week. There is tremendous pressure on Goodell -- some of it racial pressure -- to take a tough position with Roethlisberger. The commissioner has earned something of a reputation for being a hanging judge in his disciplinary dealings with black players such as Michael Vick and Adam "Pac-Man" Jones. He has to know how it would look if he turns soft with a star, two-time Super Bowl-winning, white quarterback, who, clearly, has violated the league's Personal Conduct Policy.

Certainly, the league's black players will be watching closely how Goodell handles the Roethlisberger situation.

There also is pressure on the Steelers -- again, some of it racial -- to come down hard on Roethlisberger. There's no disputing that the team was tough with Holmes, a black wide receiver. A former No. 1 pick and the MVP of the Steelers' win in Super Bowl XLIII, Holmes was traded Sunday night to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft choice. It's obvious the Steelers had tired of his equally loutish off-the-field behavior, which included four incidents involving police intervention since he was drafted in 2006, some absurd tweets on his Twitter account recently and the four-game suspension. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette reported the team was so disgusted with Holmes that it would have released him if it hadn't found a trade partner.

Certainly, the Steelers' black players will be watching closely how management handles the Roethlisberger situation.

Steelers president Art Rooney II released a statement Monday saying the team would wait until Goodell has his meeting with Roethlisberger to determine "the next steps in this process."

The next step is a suspension for Roethlisberger.

That can be the only step.

Bright put it best in his "grow-up" lecture to Roethlisberger.

"Come on, you're supposed to stand for something. You need to be a role model for your team, your city, the NFL. You can do better."


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com .


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