It has become more apparent that Ben Roethlisberger will not open the 2010 National Football League season as the Steelers' starting quarterback.
The Steelers are prepared to discipline Mr. Roethlisberger, team president Art Rooney II said Thursday, and the quarterback is willing to accept the "consequences."
That discipline, which Mr. Rooney declined to identify, will not occur for a few weeks and will be coordinated with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. It likely will include suspension for a certain amount of games to start the season.
"After imposing an appropriate level of discipline," Mr. Rooney said during a news conference at the Steelers' South Side training facility, "and outlining the steps we feel will be necessary to be successful as a player and a person, we intend to allow Ben the opportunity to prove to us he is the teammate and citizen we all believe he is capable of being.
"And we hope the entire Steelers community will allow Ben the opportunity to prove to them that he deserves their trust and their respect."
Mr. Rooney also would not dismiss the chance that Mr. Roethlisberger, who led the Steelers to Super Bowl victories after the 2005 and 2008 seasons, could be traded, although that seems to be remote.
"We don't talk about trades in advance, that's been a consistent policy," Mr. Rooney said. "The only thing I'll add is that at this point we have not discussed a trade with any other club."
Mr. Rooney read a statement and then took questions in the team's media room as the Steelers' president spoke out for the first time since issuing a brief statement on Monday. He made it clear that any discipline will be imposed because of Mr. Roethlisberger's actions in Milledgeville, Ga., where a 20-year-old woman accused him of sexual assault the night of March 4-5. On Monday, a Georgia district attorney declined to prosecute Mr. Roethlisberger.
Mr. Rooney said the civil lawsuit filed in Nevada by another woman claiming sexual assault by Mr. Roethlisberger has no bearing on any discipline that will be issued.
Mr. Goodell can suspend a player under the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy but has never used that policy against a player who has not been charged with a crime, which Mr. Roethlisberger has not. It is more likely that Mr. Goodell will discipline the quarterback rather than the team because the NFL Players Association would have an easier time winning an appeal if the team were to suspend its quarterback, and Mr. Rooney fairly acknowledged that Thursday.
"I think we'd probably prefer to do it," he said of the Steelers taking action against the player. "But the truth of the matter is we're dealing with a player who has a contract, we're dealing with a situation where there's a collective bargaining agreement -- the players association may or may not have input into it. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle that probably prevent us from moving ahead on our own at this point."
The Steelers' president also noted that there will not be "two separate decisions on discipline" taken -- one by the league and one by the team.
"I have made it clear to Ben that his conduct in this incident did not live up to our standards," Mr. Rooney said. "We have made it very clear to Ben that there will be consequences for his actions, and Ben has indicated to us that he is willing to accept those consequences."
The Steelers franchise and Mr. Roethlisberger in particular have taken image "hits'' over the incident, Mr. Rooney said.
"But an image is built over a long period of time," he said. "And I certainly think that there's a lot of good will left in the Steelers' image. ... Look, it's a situation that he's going to have to work hard through all of this to rehabilitate his image. There's no question that it's taken a hit and we've told him it's going to be a long journey back and he's going to have to be up to meeting the challenge.''
Mr. Roethlisberger attended team workouts at the Steelers' facility for the second consecutive day. Mr. Rooney revealed that Mr. Roethlisberger joined his teammates after the Steelers "allowed" him to.
"We felt like we wanted to make sure that we had Ben's commitment, that he was going to take steps to do the kind of things we think he needs to do to become a successful player, a successful person," Mr. Rooney said.
He also addressed the trade of wide receiver Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft pick Sunday night. Mr. Holmes has been suspended for the first four games of the 2010 season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy and has a record of arrests, although no convictions, since the Steelers drafted him in 2006.
"Clearly, Santonio is a very talented football player,'' Mr. Rooney said. "But his multiple violations of league policies and the additional off-the-field problems lead us to conclude that it would be in the best interest of our organization to part ways."
He said the Holmes trade was in no way a reaction to what had happened with Mr. Roethlisberger, and the two were treated separately.
"It's been a difficult situation," Mr. Rooney said of the five weeks from the time Mr. Roethlisberger was accused until authorities decided not to charge him. "I think we understand that we all in this organization have lot of work to do to earn the fans' trust back. ...
"As far as Ben is concerned, he understands where we are and is prepared to live with the consequences. We're giving Ben an opportunity to regain the trust and respect that he wants to have and to regain the opportunity to be a successful football player for us.
"I think the most important thing is that Ben stay committed to doing what he has to do to uphold his end of the bargain."