NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is going above and beyond what has been expected of him under the terms of his suspension, but he will not let the Steelers know if the suspension will be been reduced until later in the preseason.
Roethlisberger was suspended for the first six games of the regular season, with the possibility that it could be reduced to four, after he was accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year old Georgia woman in March. Roethlisberger was not prosecuted because the district attorney in Milledgeville, Ga. determined after a monthlong investigation that there was not enough evidence to pursue the case.
Goodell is on a tour of NFL camps with former NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden. He spoke with reporters Thursday morning and said he has been encouraged by what he has seen from Roethlisberger thus far.
"He is doing great," Goodell said. "I've been encouraged by what I have seen. He's understanding the seriousness of the issue. I think that's a very positive development."
Goodell spoke with Roethlisberger briefly on the field during the Steelers' morning practice and met with him again for a longer conversation in the Saint Vincent College dormitories in the afternoon.
When Roethlisberger was asked what he had done to go above and beyond the commissioner's program, Roethlisberger said he has done local charity work in his free time.
"It's the things in the community that I don't normally tell people," Roethlisberger said. "It's serving dinner at the Salvation Army, the Ronald McDonald House, going to the Caring Place and talking to families. Just things that I like to keep quiet because it's not about everyone knowing. But we've let [Goodell] know that we've been doing these things.
"I wanted to show him that I would do everything he asked and then some. I want to get back out here as soon as possible to be with my guys."
Goodell's authority has come into question because of his inconsistencies when doling out suspensions to players. Roethlisberger was not arrested or charged with a crime, but others who have been arrested have not been suspended.
Several high-profile players have escaped punishment in recent months. Cincinnati running back Cedric Benson was not suspended for his role in a Texas bar fight in May. He previously was arrested twice for driving under the influence.
Tennessee quarterback Vince Young also did not receive a suspension after getting into a fight at a Dallas strip club in June. He was given a misdemeanor assault citation.
"The circumstances are a lot different [in those cases]," Goodell said. "You have to look at the facts of each one. You have to look at the facts and make the decision that is in the best interests of the individual. It's always a challenge because you're dealing with someone's future. And obviously the team. But you're really looking at the long term. What's going to change the behavior?"
Roethlisberger was asked about his feelings that Young was not suspended.
"I guess every case is different," he said. "I'm sure he has his reasons that I'm sure he knows and we all don't need to know."
Roethlisberger also was asked whether he believed the commissioner was sending a message to the rest of the league by suspending him.
"He's the commissioner of the league," Roethlisberger said. "He's the boss of the bosses. He has the right to do what he feels is right to make his league run the way he wants it to be run. It's a tough job. I can't say it's easy. He's doing what he feels is right."
Reserve quarterback Charlie Batch, who is an executive member of the NFL player's association and the Steelers' union representative, said players want more clarity concerning Goodell's rules for suspension.
"No. 1, don't do anything that will make you see the commissioner," Batch said. "So then you don't have to deal with that. If you do, what is that process? We don't know. I can't speak from experience. Is there a lot of gray area in his personal conduct policy? Absolutely there is. If you need to appeal your suspension, you have to see the same person who gave you the suspension. Is that right? No. But the bottom line is don't do anything so you don't have to deal with the consequences."
Roethlisberger has been allowed to take part in training camp with teammates, but when the regular season begins he will not be allowed to be around the team facilities. Roethlisberger said he has plans for how he will keep in shape during that period, but he did not divulge them Thursday.
"I have some ideas up my sleeve that will help me stay in shape, stay around football without breaking any rules," he said. "I can't do anything with the Steelers, with the organization. We just have to talk with [Goodell] and make sure he's OK with it. But we have some good ideas that I'm sure you guys will hear about very soon."
Goodell said he hopes Roethlisberger continues on a good path during his exile from the team.
"I hope he'll continue to focus on himself, continue to work on what his advisers are suggesting he needs to focus on and use it as a productive period for him," he said.
Goodell created some confusion during his session with reporters regarding the length of the suspension. He was asked twice whether the suspension could be reduced to fewer than four games and gave vague answers on both occasions.
A spokesman from the NFL office later clarified that there is no chance the suspension will be fewer than four games.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230.