Roethlisberger Avoids Charge, but still has others to answer to

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger reads a statement after learning that he will not be charged over an alleged incident

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger learned yesterday that indeed he had avoided a huge bullet in tiny Milledgeville, Georgia. The two-time Super Bowl winner will not face a rape charge in connection with an incident at a Georgia nightclub in March 2010.  But in avoiding being charged, Roethlisberger was not spared a scolding by Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Fredric D. Bright that included the prosecutor advising Big Ben to “Grow Up.”

To the surprise of many, Bright was more than willing to spell out what allegedly happened in a nightclub bathroom and the amount of alcohol that was involved in an incident with a 20-year old college student that he continually called the “victim”.  You know that the Steelers and the NFL cringed at the salacious details that were given for the world to hear.  And there is no denying that Bright’s forthright information surely brought shame to one of the league’s most decorated franchises and possibly left a crack in the league’s indelible shield. 

However in the end, Bright said that there wouldn’t be any charges with the following accompanying comments, “Based on the evidence here, we don’t have enough evidence to prosecute. I know when I have a case, and I know when I don’t. And I don’t have enough evidence to convince 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Roethlisberger would be guilty of a crime of rape.”

Bright added, “Everybody could be criticized for their actions that night. I’m not condoning what (Roethlisberger) did.   There was too much drinking going on. If he were my son, [I would say], ‘Ben, grow up. Come on, you’re supposed to stand for something. I mean, you’re a leader, you should be a role model. You don’t need to put yourself in this position anymore.”  Bright firmly summed up his feeling on the non-moving-forward case by saying, “We do not prosecute morals.  We prosecute crimes.”

Bright also revealed that the alleged victim did not wish to pursue the case, due to facing public scrutiny, but added that it had no bearing on his decision.  Of course, after the decision was finalized both the 20-year old alleged victim’s attorney and  Roethlisberger’s Atlanta-based attorney, Ed Garland, issued statements saying that the whole matter was thoroughly investigated and it would now be behind both parties. 

But not so fast as Roethlisberger could possibly have to face his second civil case in 2 years around a sexual case and there is also the matter of both the Rooney family and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wanting to meet with him later this week.

After the decision was announced,  Roethlisberger addressed the media from the Steelers headquarters, where he read a prepared statement and took no questions.  Below is the text from his statement (courtesy of the Steelers).

 “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.

Thank you. God Bless!”

It will be interesting to see where the Steelers, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and Roethlisberger go from here.  The Steelers have already unequivocally voiced their displeasure with the negative spotlight their star quarterback has shined on the organization.  Over the years, the Steelers and the Rooney family have been known for making tough decisions around “character”, just ask recently departed Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes – traded to the New York Jets for a measly 5th round after several legal run-ins and being suspended (4 games) for failing a league mandated drug test.  But this time it involves the team’s biggest star and everyone will be watching.  I believe that the Steelers will wait for Goodell to impose any sanction before acting.  However remember that any team decision can be appealed by the player’s association, if Roethlisberger wishes.

As for Goodell, remember back when he first took office in 2007 that cleaning up the NFL’s image was omnipotent.  Commissioner Goodell, fueled behind a “beefed” up Person Conduct Policy that was blessed by the NFLPA and player’s advisory committee, quickly went on the attack against the league’s “Bad Boys”.  Goodell clearly was agitated about the NFL’s off the field image and the policy gave him a lot of latitude that he applied in suspending players like Adam “Pacman” Jones, the late Chris Henry and others.  At the time that the new policy was enacted in 2007, co-chairman of the league’s competition committee Rich Mc-Kay said, “We’re all concerned with the things that go on off the field and how the actions of a few may affect many (players)”.

Alright then Goodell and the rest of the “Keepers of the Shield” now it is time to follow the same course of action with Roethlisberger.  Because you know in a league that is over 70% African-American that everyone wants to see if a prominent Caucasian player will get the same treatment as a Pacman Jones.  Already Pittsburgh Post Gazette columnist Ron Cook wrote after Bright’s decision. 

“There is tremendous pressure on Goodell — some of it racial pressure — to take a tough position with Roethlisberger. The commissioner has earned something of a reputation for being a hanging judge in his disciplinary dealings with black players such as Michael Vick and Adam “Pac-Man” Jones. He has to know how it would look if he turns soft with a star, two-time Super Bowl-winning, white quarterback, who, clearly, has violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy. Certainly, the league’s black players will be watching closely how Goodell handles the Roethlisberger situation.”

My gut is telling me that the NFL will impose a 2 to 4-game suspension against  Roethlisberger plus tell him to attend some kind of alcohol classes.  You can also expect that the Steelers will support the league’s decision and possibly add in their own recourse which could include fining their quarterback.  And it will behoove Roethlisberger to not appeal and accept whatever punishment that the league and the Rooney family hands down. 

 But the biggest decision of where we go from here involves Roethlisberger himself.  The Georgia small town DA was right when he told Big Ben to “Grow Up” and now he must.  Second chances are few and far between in the eyes of NFL and the league’s millions of fans and Roethlisberger better take advantage of it.  Though some fans will never fully take him back, I believe humbling himself and winning are the keys for the two-time Super Bowl winner to get back in good graces of the court of public opinion. 

 Big Ben should take a page from the circumstances that once surrounded Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis back in 2000.  At the time, Lewis went through a double homicide trial in Atlanta and was ultimately exonerated after pleading guilty to a lesser charge of obstruction of justice. Then the NFL sent their own message in the form of a $250,000 dollar fine – highest in league history.  However it was during this trying time that Lewis learned that he needed to some self-reflection  first causing him to change his ways.  

Afterwards Lewis prospered on the field, winning defensive player of year honors during the regular season and leading the Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XXXV where he was named MVP of the game.  The future Hall of Fame linebacker even got back in the good graces of the NFL, fans, and advertisers to the point where he appeared on the cover of the popular EA Sports Madden football game and did commercials for the NFL Network of all places.

Now it is decision time for Roethlisberger, he can either “Grow Up” or end up just another story in the NFL’s lengthy list of guys that “Just Didn’t Get It” during their playing days.


Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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