Steelers' Roethlisberger will not appeal his suspension

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His public image in tatters, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Monday said he would not appeal his NFL suspension and contritely promised to "comply with what is asked of me -- and more."

In a three-paragraph statement released by the team, Mr. Roethlisberger took responsibility for his behavior, acknowledged disappointing his family and apologized to his teammates and fans.

"The commissioner's decision to suspend me speaks clearly that more is expected of me," the statement said. "I am accountable for the consequences of my actions. Though I have committed no crime, I regret that I have fallen short of the values instilled in me by my family. I will not appeal the suspension and will comply with what is asked of me -- and more.

"Missing games will be devastating for me. I am sorry to let down my teammates and the entire Steelers fan base. I am disappointed that I have reached this point and will not put myself in this situation again.

"I appreciate the opportunities that I have been given in my life and will make the necessary improvements."

Neither the Steelers nor Mr. Roethlisberger would comment on the statement, but experts in sports management and public relations said they saw it as an important step in the quarterback's attempt to rebuild his image.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week suspended Mr. Roethlisberger for the first four to six games of the coming season for behavior that, he said, violated the league's personal conduct policy.

Mr. Roethlisberger, 28, was accused by a 20-year-old college student of sexually assaulting her in the bathroom of a nightclub while he was bar-hopping last month in Milledgeville, Ga. The district attorney there, however, announced he would not press charges because there was not enough evidence to prove that a crime was committed.

Attorneys for Mr. Roethlisberger consistently said he had committed no crime, but his actions brought him tremendous scrutiny and scorn.

"I think Roethlisberger is responding as well as he can under the circumstances," said Gene Grabowski, a senior vice president with Levick Strategic Communications, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that specializes in crisis communications.

"So far, it meets the test. I think people will accept it. I think the fans want to forgive him. But, of course, he has to stay out of hot water. He should avoid bars and parties for a good long while."

Mr. Grabowski, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, conceded that Mr. Roethlisberger's motivation is "to shorten his suspension," but that doesn't mean he hasn't learned his lesson. Especially if the quarterback's vow to do "more" translates into community service, such as working with youths.

"No matter what he does, there are going to be people who suspect his motives," Mr. Grabowski said. "But by not doing it, he's not reaffirming the support he's building with the fans. Why not move positively? That will outweigh any negativity from people who suspect his motives.

"My advice to Ben would be to worry about the things that you can control: his actions, his community works and what he says. He can't control the litigation process; he can't control what his critics think and say. To worry about that is a mistake."

David E. Johnson, CEO and co-founder of Strategic Vision in Atlanta, hailed Mr. Roethlisberger's handling of the crisis so far and said that he should be able to bounce back.

"Ben is smart. One statement, no interviews, no other responses," said Mr. Johnson. "At some point, it dies down."

Mr. Johnson said that as far as his public image, Mr. Roethlisberger has some advantages over pro golfer Tiger Woods, who has endured the scandal of cheating on his wife.

"Roethlisberger doesn't have the same nationwide connotation. To a lot of people, Tiger Woods meant golf. When you thought golf, you thought Tiger Woods. When you think football, you don't necessarily think of Ben," Mr. Johnson said.

Also, he said, Mr. Woods "had a squeaky-clean image that his media people had built up." Mr. Roethlisberger reveled in the persona of a motorcycle-riding, hard-partying ladies' man.

"And the NFL has had so many scandals recently, that he's getting lost in the shuffle," Mr. Johnson said.

Ralph Cindrich, a Pittsburgh attorney and sports agent, said the short statement "hit all the points he had to hit."

"Hopefully, it didn't come from a PR person and comes from his heart," Mr. Cindrich said. "Most of us are forgiving people and want to see the best things happen. We want to see someone turn his life around."

The fact that the statement does not acknowledge any wrongdoing, Mr. Cindrich said, might be a means of protecting Mr. Roethlisberger from any lawsuit the woman in Georgia might decide to file.

"It would be a while before the statute of limitations would run out, but given the circumstances, it would appear that she doesn't want any of the publicity that would come with a trial," Mr. Cindrich said.

Mr. Roethlisberger still faces a civil lawsuit filed by a 32-year-old Nevada woman who claims he sexually assaulted her in a Lake Tahoe resort hotel where she worked in July 2008. That case remains open while a court considers a change of venue.

Contacted Monday at his Reno office, Calvin R.X. Dunlap, the attorney for the Nevada woman, said he found fault with Mr. Roethlisberger's statement.

"He's apologized to the league, to his team and his teammates. He's apologized to his family and his fans," he said. "I notice that he failed to apologize to the young lady in Georgia. She's notably missing."


Dan Majors: dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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