The calls for the league to suspend Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are increasing. Among fans and the media, we’ve detected a strong sense that Commissioner Roger Goodell should suspend him.
Former Steelers teammate Mike Logan of ESPN 1250 in Pittsburgh told WTAE-TV that a failure to suspend Roethlisberger could create a real problem. “A lot of players will go out and say, ‘Well, Ben did this,’” Logan said. “‘He’s been in bad situations and he didn’t get suspended.’ So I think there might be a little uproar if he doesn’t get a suspension.”
Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco posed this question on Twitter: “What would have happened to me if I was being accused of the same allegations that Ben was?”
And this speaks to the unfortunate but unavoidable racial distinctions at issue here. Many have raised the perception that Roethlisberger will catch a break because he’s white.
For starters, does anyone think that Roethlisberger is catching a break? Unless it’s now regarded as a good thing to be constantly ridiculed and scrutinized and openly held in contempt, it’s hard to characterize any aspect of the past several weeks as anything other than a heaping helping of comeuppance.
There’s another important reality that must be considered in this case — the terms of the Personal Conduct Policy. As we’ve recently pointed out, the four-page document contains inconsistent language regarding whether a suspension may be imposed in the absence of an arrest or prosecution. In the section explaining the “Standards of Conduct,” the policy seems to encompass behavior that does not result in an arrest or the filing of charges. In the section regarding “Discipline,” the policy seems to contemplate the existence of a criminal proceeding, especially in the case of a “first offense.”
(In this regard, it’s possible that Goodell could conclude that the Nevada lawsuit constitutes a “first offense”; given that there was no criminal investigation and that the civil case is tied up in initial procedural skirmishes, it would be difficult at this juncture for Goodell to conclude that Roethlisberger did anything wrong in Nevada, unless NFL Security has thoroughly investigated the situation.)
If the league suspends Roethlisberger despite the ambiguity contained in the Personal Conduct Policy, the league would be establishing a precedent that, in theory, would compel the league to be prepared to investigate any allegations of misbehavior that, for whatever reason, the criminal justice system opts not to address. As a practical matter, however, the Commissioner could blur the words of the Personal Conduct Policy to justify any suspension that he chooses to impose, especially if the contrition Roethlisberger demonstrated on Monday night would translate into an acceptance of the decision without resistance.
With so many people acknowledging that Roethlisberger has done enough to be severely punished and with Roethlisberger by all appearances prepared to take his medicine, Goodell could treat Roethlisberger’s case as an aberration, suspend him, and then adhere to a general rule that invokes the Personal Conduct Policy only when the player has been arrested or prosecuted.
Then there’s the reality, as we’ve previously pointed out, that the Steelers could suspend Roethlisberger for up to four games for conduct detrimental to the team. Given that the Steelers need to reclaim their reputation by doing something more tangible than merely shipping Santonio Holmes to New York, it makes far more sense for the Steelers and not the league to punish Roethlisberger — and for Goodell to explain in detail that, if the Steelers had not disciplined Roethlisberger, the league would have.
Either way, we’ll likely have an answer soon. And no one believes that he’ll walk away from the situation with only a slap on the wrist.