The Roethlisberger Conundrum

Friday, April 16th, 2010, 1:19 pm

When I was in G-Vegas for the Mastodon Weekend we were sitting at the bar (natch) and ESPN had brief segment about the NFL Draft. There was talk about where Jimmy Clausen would go, if perhaps the Redskins would reach for him at #4. I turned to BG and said, “This is why having your franchise quarterback signed for ten years is nice, you don’t have to worry about making a huge mistake on a QB.”

And then the next day Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault.

Roethlisberger’s fate has of course been a huge topic of discussion in Pittsburgh and now that the D.A. investigating the case has decided not to charge Roethlisberger the chatter has, if anything, gotten louder. Before the D.A.’s press conference you at least could say “Hey, we don’t know what happened, we have to wait until the facts come out”. Now the facts have come out, or at least the information gathered during the police investigation has come out, and it’s leaves the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Steeler fans in a moral no-man’s land.

Here’s the first part of the problem. Roethlisberger wasn’t charged with a crime. Accused of a crime, but not charged. So, if you’re the league or the team and you want to suspend him for his conduct, what conduct are you suspending him for? He wasn’t charged with a crime. The NFL’s personal conduct policy allows Roger Goodell to suspend players for littering if he pleases, so whatever penalty is handed down will have to come from the league, because if the Steelers try to impose their own discipline the NFL Player’s Association would almost certainly fight it. Sanction a player who hasn’t been charged with a crime? That’s a precedent the union would no doubt fight tooth and nail.

That’s part one. Here’s part two–Roethlisberger was accused of a heinous crime, and there seems to be compelling evidence that he did it. Or, at the very least, he and several of his companions engaged in some utterly loathsome behavior. It’s true that Roethlisberger wasn’t charged, but that’s due in large part to the alleged victim not wanting to pursue the matter. That might have saved Roethlisberger from a criminal charge, but it might not save his career. In the aftermath of the D.A.’s decision not to press charges, we’ve heard a statement from Roethlisberger where he said he was “truly sorry for the disappointment and negative attention I have brought to my family, my teammates and coaches, the Rooneys and the NFL”. OK, fine, you brought disappointment and negative attention. That’s bad. But what exactly did you DO? If I was accused of sexual assault and I was facing serious financial repercussions and the destruction of my reputation, and I didn’t do it, once I was out of legal jeopardy I’d be vigorously defending myself. Instead we had a hangdog and creepy-looking Roethlisberger standing at a podium (alone, no owner or coaches or teammates offering support) mumbling a vague apology.

Yesterday Art Rooney II said that “After imposing an appropriate level of discipline…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.” Rooney then said, “”I have made it clear to Ben that his conduct in this incident did not live up to our standards. 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.”

Which leads us full circle–exactly what conduct did not live up to the Steelers’ standards? Roethlisberger was accused of raping a drunk girl in the bathroom of a bar and that doesn’t live up to anybody’s standards. What the hell do the Steelers think happened that night? Does the fact that he wasn’t charged with a crime mean they don’t believe the most serious charges? Has Roethlisberger told the team his version of what happened and they found his story convincing?  The alleged victim said Roethlisberger had sex with her after she said it wasn’t OK. Her friends say two of his “bodyguards” physically prevented them from going to her aid. After they left the club they reported the incident to the first police officer they could find (who apparently wasn’t very sympathetic and today quit his job). What has Roethlisberger told the team that makes them believe his side of the story?

Because if there isn’t another side of the story, then all this talk of discipline and suspensions should be moot. If the allegations against Roethlisberger are even vaguely accurate, the Steelers should cut him. NOW. After the police findings were released a lot of NFL reporters and observers on Twitter were saying that the info was so damning and disgusting that they thought that Roethlisberger’s suspension should be far worse than the two-to-four games that was the general consensus beforehand. But if you believe the info in the police report, then I don’t see how Roethlisberger has a place in the NFL. He certainly shouldn’t have a role with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team should release him, immediately.

The fact that the Steelers haven’t released him makes me think that the team honestly believes he didn’t commit sexual assault. I would like to think that the Rooney family wouldn’t go to bat for a despicable criminal, even if he is a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. But we still don’t know what happened, we don’t know what Roethlisberger told Goodell and Rooney that makes them feel that stern discipline is warranted yet not an immediate release.

And it leaves Steeler fans in moral limbo. If Roethlisberger remains on the team and returns to the field after the inevitable suspension, are we cheering on a rapist? And while there are no doubt Steeler fans who would forgive Roethlisberger if he shot Sidney Crosby, just about every person I’ve talked to wants the Steelers to either release Roethlisberger or trade him. I don’t know about the ethics of trading a player who might be a sexual predator (I think it’s a wee bit shaky) but people seem disgusted at what he allegedly did and fed up with him in general. Roethlisberger has never been especially popular in Pittsburgh, I think the motorcycle accident was what made people first look at him askance. And then he was accused of sexual assault in Lake Tahoe, though that was a civil suit filed a year after the alleged incident and not a criminal charge. People seemed to believe him when he refuted the allegation and filed a counter-suit, but once again he was in the news for all the wrong reasons. He wasn’t named a team captain until a few years into his career and the fact that he wasn’t named team MVP until last season led to rumors that he’s not well-liked in the locker room. But of course there’s a big difference between being unpopular and being a rapist. Right now all Steeler fans know is that Ben Roethlisberger did something bad, bad enough that he’s going to be suspended by the league and bad enough that it’ll probably cost himself at least a million dollars in lost wages. But not so bad that the Steelers are washing their hands of him. Roethlisberger is a man charged with no crime who is acting like a criminal and being treated like one.

The saddest aspect of this story is that everyone (including me in this post) is focusing on how this incident will affect Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers, and not on how it affected the woman who was allegedly the victim of a violent crime. This story is a sordid and all-to-common confluence of sex and money and celebrity where concepts like the truth and justice are given short shrift. It’s ugly, and its stupid that something as trivial as sports should be the focal point of this story. And unless compelling information exonerating Roethlisberger comes out, I’m going to feel ugly and stupid rooting for the Pittsburgh Steelers with him as their quarterback. Until I hear that compelling information, my opinion is that the Steelers should release him.

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5 Responses to “The Roethlisberger Conundrum”

  1. sirfwalgman Says:

    That is not how football works is it? I think it is more like as long as he plays good then we will keep him.

  2. Wes Says:

    I am very curious to see how this plays out. I am a fan of the Rooneys as much as any non-Steeler fan can be, but this has the potential to give them a big shiner. Two of my heroes growing up were OJ and Pete Rose. I hate to think of a generation of Pittsburgh kids looking back the same way I do.

    I would not be shocked if he gets released, especially if the”new” allegation has any legs.

    *commented on wrong post as well.

  3. Andrew Says:

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  4. TVF Says:

    Looks like they made trade him at the last minute before the draft.

    Good post, btw.

  5. SusanAtl Says:


    Take a look @ the Atlanta Journal Constitution today (front page).
    Wow what a mess!

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