Steelers ponder suspension of Roethlisberger
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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger expressed "gratitude" Monday that he was not charged with sexual assault in Georgia and sorrow for causing "disappointment and negative attention."
But his troubles might not be over. Sources have told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Steelers are considering a suspension of their 28-year-old quarterback -- if National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell does not beat them to the punch -- even though prosecutors in Georgia announced the investigation and case against him have been dropped.
Steelers President Art Rooney II was described as "furious" by some after watching a news conference from Milledgeville, Ga., Monday afternoon that detailed in graphic terms some of Mr. Roethlisberger's escapades with a drunken 20-year-old woman. Mr. Rooney later issued a statement that the organization will consider the "next steps in this process" after consulting with Mr. Goodell. Mr. Rooney said the commissioner will meet with Mr. Roethlisberger in the next few days.
The quarterback spoke publicly for the first time since the incident with the college student in the bathroom of a club in the Georgia college town. At the Steelers South Side practice facility, reporters and photographers gathered at 7 p.m. behind a roped-off area in the locker room, where Mr. Roethlisberger, dressed in a long-sleeved maroon Nike button-down shirt and gray slacks with his blond hair slicked back, stood behind a podium and read a statement:
"I'd like to begin by expressing gratitude for the thorough investigation process in Georgia and the prosecutor's decision not to bring charges. I know without a doubt it is the right conclusion. I don't intend to discuss any details related to the events in Georgia. I am happy to put this behind me and move forward.
"I am truly sorry for the disappointment and negative attention I have brought to my family, my teammates and coaches, the Rooneys and the NFL. I understand that the opportunities I have been blessed with are a privilege, and that much is expected of me as the quarterback of Pittsburgh Steelers. I absolutely want to be the leader this team deserves, valued in the community and a role model to kids. I have much work to do to earn this trust, and I am committed to improving and showing everyone my true values.
"I am excited to get back to work with my teammates, and I am more determined than ever to have a great season. I intend to make my family, friends and the Steeler Nation proud on all fronts."
Mr. Roethlisberger took no questions from the gathered media of about 50. It was the second time in nine months he had read a statement from a podium at the Steelers facility in response to a sexual assault claim by a woman. However, while coach Mike Tomlin and personnel head Kevin Colbert stood in the front of the room in obvious support of their quarterback while he faced the media last summer, Mr. Roethlisberger stood alone Monday. He was sued last year by a woman in Nevada who claims he sexually assaulted her. He was not criminally charged in that case.
While Fredric D. Bright, the district attorney of the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit in Georgia, said he will not prosecute this case, he revealed some graphic details of what happened the night of March 4 and early morning hours of March 5 in a Milledgeville, Ga., nightclub.
"We are not condoning Mr. Roethlisberger's actions that night," Mr. Bright said at a news conference. "But we do not prosecute morals, we prosecute crimes."
The NFL and the Steelers, however, can punish the quarterback based on the league's conduct policy and a team's possible claim to conduct detrimental to the ballclub. One of the possible issues is Mr. Bright's conclusion that Mr. Roethlisberger could have been cited for providing alcohol to a minor.
Multiple Steelers sources indicated that Mr. Rooney is considering various types of punishment for his quarterback, including suspension from a game or games in 2010. It's also possible the NFL could take that decision out of Mr. Rooney's hands by issuing a suspension under the league's conduct policy.
In his statement, Mr. Rooney said:
"During the past few weeks I have met with Ben on a number of occasions, not only to discuss this incident but also to discuss his commitment to making sure something like this never happens again.
"The Pittsburgh Steelers take the conduct of players and staff very seriously. Ben will now have to work hard to earn back the respect and trust of Steelers fans, and to live up to the leadership responsibilities we all expect of him."
Some of the raw details of the incident last month might only strengthen the case against him by the league and the Steelers.
Mr. Bright said he could not pursue the case because he did not believe he could prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
The NFL and/or the Steelers, however, do not need such proof.
Mr. Goodell, during the NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla., last month, said, "We are concerned that Ben continues to put himself in this position." An NFL spokesman said the commissioner would have no further comment but would meet with Mr. Roethlisberger soon. Mr. Goodell also can require that Mr. Roethlisberger undergo counseling.
Mr. Bright said what others -- including Mr. Rooney and Mr. Goodell -- might want to tell Mr. Roethlisberger these days. Mr. Bright said if it were his son, he would tell him to "grow up."
"Come on, you're supposed to stand for something," Mr. Bright said.
"You need to be a role model for your team, your city, the NFL. You can do better."
Mr. Bright concluded that, "I hope that he's learned something from this, I really do."
First Published April 13, 2010 12:00 am