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League lays foundation for suspending player without arrest or charges

We’ve previously pointed out the presence of ambiguous language in the Personal Conduct Policy that makes the potential suspension of players who have never been arrested or charged uncertain.  The Personal Conduct Policy never has been applied to a player who has not faced criminal charges, and doing so in the case of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would set a new — and potentially dangerous — precedent.

But the notion that players will be subject to discipline only if arrested or charged speaks to one of the major concerns we long have had regarding the Personal Conduct Policy.  If it will be invoked only if a police officer sees fit to apply handcuffs or a prosecutor sees fit to obtain an indictment, the authorities will have too much power over the process — specifically in cities where there could be an inclination to look the other way out of deference to the local team.

Here’s the key language that has caused us to question whether Roethlisberger or any other player could be suspended under the Personal Conduct Policy without an arrest or charges:  “Unless the case involves significant bodily harm, a first offense will generally not result in discipline until there
has been a disposition of the proceeding.”

Without an arrest or charges, there is no “proceeding.”  Thus, without a disposition of the “proceeding,” there can be no discipline under the Personal Conduct Policy for a first offense.

An April 7, 2010 memo obtained by the New York Times reiterates the portions of the Personal Conduct Policy that contemplate a higher standard of behavior than mere compliance with the law.  “The Policy makes clear that NFL and club personnel must do more than
simply avoid criminal behavior,” the memo states.  “We must conduct ourselves in a way that ‘is responsible, that promotes the values upon which the league is
based, and is lawful.’”

The memo also contains what could be a hint regarding the manner in which the league will deal with the “until there has been a disposition of the proceeding” clause.  Apart from the wiggle room supplied by the term “generally,” the league could argue that, in Roethlisberger’s case, the month-long investigation was the “proceeding.”  We base that conclusion on this sentence from the memo:  “Whether it involves your team or another, these incidents affect us all -
every investigation, arrest, or other allegation of improper conduct
undermines the respect for our league by our fans, lessens the
confidence of our business partners and threatens the continued success
of our brand.”

Given that any imposition of discipline under the Personal Conduct Policy is appealed by the Commissioner and that Roethlisberger seems to be ready to accept whatever punishment he gets, it’s unlikely that the league’s potential decision that an investigation without charges constitutes a “proceeding” sufficient to permit discipline would be successfully challenged.  Though this could force the NFL in the future to fully explore every “investigation” and “other allegation of improper conduct” short of an arrest or indictment, the league appears to be willing to continue to deal with these situations on a case-by-case basis, and in this case the league could conclude that the evidence is crying out for something substantial. 

Frankly, the more we think about the contents of those witness statements, the less surprised we’d be by a suspension of eight games, or more.

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54 Responses to “League lays foundation for suspending player without arrest or charges”
  1. rjgreen3 says: Apr 15, 2010 10:30 PM

    Will this be called The Ben Rapistburger Rule? lol

  2. robert ethan says: Apr 15, 2010 10:33 PM

    Court of Public Opinion has the final say.
    O.J. walked but he was a dead man walking.

  3. LeeB says: Apr 15, 2010 10:35 PM

    OK Mike,
    Under what circumstances in the past has the commissioner dealt punishment in the form of fines and supensions that all of a sudden we are splitting hairs and hemming and hawing because we are talking about:
    1. A QB
    2. A white QB
    3. A white QB from a treasured team
    Please explain that. 85 was right. Had it been him, they would not be wringing their hands like they are doing now.
    Like I said before, let the boffoon walk this time, but Roger better lay off any other player that sneezes the wrong way and charges are not filed. And I don’t care what the crime is since obviously rape rates pretty low with the NFL.

  4. hairball says: Apr 15, 2010 10:36 PM

    Does the Personal Conduct Policy specifically mention “fat, drunk, and stupid” as violations?

  5. BigBear123 says: Apr 15, 2010 10:38 PM

    If Warden Goodell wishes his National Felon League to continue to expand and eventually hit revenue of $25 billion per year by 2027 they need to clean it up.
    What would happen to Steve Jobs(Apple) if he did the same thing? He would be forced out of his job. What about Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint, who is a great guy by the way. He wouldn’t be able to keep his job through these allegations, let alone a conviction. Top tier companies don’t put up with that kind of BS, regardless of how talented the employees are.
    If Goodell wants to move the NFL to top tier, as he has expressed interest in doing so, he needs to get stricter. Goodell wants QB’s to be the face of the NFL, all the rules added to protect them enforces this point.
    Have a felon playing backup in Philly who still draws a lot of hate. Now you have a Rapist in Pittsburgh who just might be registering as a sex offender if he doesn’t straighten out really quick.

  6. Deb_aka_bens_lawyer says: Apr 15, 2010 10:41 PM

    HOW DARE THEY SUSPEND MY CLIENT, BEN ROETHLISBERGER! No one should rush to judgment, except when it comes to those girls, who are lying sluts! I will defend Osama Bin Laden if he were wearing black and gold. I was a fly in the wall in that bathroom and I know what happened. She was all over him. Ben’s bodyguards were there to protect him from her.
    - Deb

  7. hayward giablommi says: Apr 15, 2010 10:44 PM

    Not sure this is a good precedent, except in the cases of QB’s who are alleged serial rapists.
    We gotta draw the line somewhere.

  8. robert ethan says: Apr 15, 2010 10:45 PM

    It’s entirely justified for the league to take matters into their own hands.
    As Terry Bradshaw so massively understated, the only reason women pay the time of day to himself or Roethisberger is that they are celebrity athletes with well publicized incomes somewhere in the stratosphere.
    The NFL is responsible for their celebrity and their wealth. If they abuse the privledge, as Roethlisberger clearly did, the NFL should take it away. Ben can still get a job as a bouncer somewhere. After all he has no criminal record. He simply isn’t allowed to be a wealthy celebrity athlete. Unless his golf game comes around.

  9. Ace says: Apr 15, 2010 10:46 PM

    I wouldn’t say this is his first offense. He is being sued in Nevada right now. That came first. Making fun of the Browns is kind of pointless now, when all they have to say is your QB rapes girls and/or farm animals. Thanks Ben for ruining one of my favorite things.

  10. silverback says: Apr 15, 2010 10:46 PM

    So everyone reads the drunk girl and her drunk sorrority sisters statements, and nobody gets to read Ben or his body guards statements, and from this Ben gets punished and convicted in public opinion????
    Is this really justice in AMERICA in 2010???? Not enough to take a case to court, but just disregard any defense or testimony on the side of the defense and convict solely on plantiff testimony.
    Would any of YOU want to be held to this standard if ever accused of anything????
    This whole thing is so wrong, our forefathers are rolling over in their graves.

  11. FireJerryJones says: Apr 15, 2010 10:48 PM

    Ben’s legacy.

  12. wyoff says: Apr 15, 2010 10:50 PM

    ‘Frankly, the more we think about the contents of those witness statements, the less surprised we’d be by a suspension of eight games”
    You mean those uncorroborated witness statements, statements that were never tested on the stand through cross examination?
    It’s a good thing that you left the legal profession.

  13. Richard says: Apr 15, 2010 10:55 PM

    Suppose Roger Goodell were a woman?

  14. BleedGreen says: Apr 15, 2010 10:56 PM

    Anyone else think they said they won’t do anything until after the draft because the Steelers are trying to swing a trade with the Rams for the #1 pick? Since the league will supposedly defer the suspension to the Steelers, if Ben isn’t a Steeler, no suspension will be pursued. Ben did not do anything detrimental to the Rams, so they can’t suspend him for conduct detrimental to their team.
    I’m probably very very wrong, but it would be a sneaky way to avoid a suspension.

  15. Klytus says: Apr 15, 2010 10:56 PM

    This is all suppositional considering Mr. Rooney earlier statements. Mr. Florio do you read own articles? This entire situation is becoming irritating that transitioning to a general dislike of the Goodell NFL. The Commisioner is so concerned with the APPEARANCE of impropriety that it’s become his mission in life. I wonder how the advertisers would feel if we all just stopped watching?
    And the pretense as though the human race was filled with saintly beings. The human race, the Darwinian Anomaly, is still breeding the same bloody bastards it bred 2000 years ago.
    There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
    William Shakespeare,
    Hamlet, Act 1, Scene V

  16. Revacard says: Apr 15, 2010 10:59 PM

    Instead of suspending him, can’t they just put Rapistburger on the back of his jersey this year? Shame the bastard.

  17. Beauregard says: Apr 15, 2010 11:03 PM

    Given that these millionaire players buy their way out of trouble this rule is a good thing.
    Hey Ben, try offering the NFL fifty grand for a free pass!
    Maybe the NFL can start their own Registered Sex Offender list.

  18. gregoriorossini says: Apr 15, 2010 11:06 PM

    child please…

  19. ajd78 says: Apr 15, 2010 11:09 PM

    About time you woke up Florio. Pacman and Stallworth were begining to wonder. Remember, neither men were convicted of crimes.

  20. Big Stretch says: Apr 15, 2010 11:11 PM

    “Frankly, the more we think about the contents of those witness statements, the less surprised we’d be by a suspension of eight games, or more.”
    ————————————————————-
    so the words of a witness that did not carry enough weight with a court of law to proceed with charges would be enough for you to suspend him for more than half a season?
    WTF? is the Russia circa 1940? Is Goodell’s middle name Stalin? What the hell ever happened to innocent until proven guilty? I am still in America right?
    Punishment for being an asshole is going to open a pandoras box that the NFL will be unable to deal with. This is a league filled with rich, young, immature players that tend to spend their weekends having fun in the company of young women.
    Ohh yeah i was sexually molested last week by Tom Brady so he should be suspended right?

  21. last starfighter says: Apr 15, 2010 11:18 PM

    # Revacard says: April 15, 2010 10:59 PM
    Instead of suspending him, can’t they just put Rapistburger on the back of his jersey this year? Shame the bastard.
    ————————————————–
    I think the league should still suspend him for 1 season but I honestly like the idea of the jersey after he’s reinstated. I also would like the league to make him work at a womens shelter one day a week for the next five years.

  22. valman61 says: Apr 15, 2010 11:19 PM

    Florio: The statement: “Unless the case involves significant bodily harm, a first offense will generally not result in discipline until there has been a disposition of the proceeding.” clearly refers to a first offense. Although a “first offense” can legally be interpreted to mean the first offense to be the first time the act resulted in a proceeding or conviction. It can also be interpreted, with the understanding of your wiggle room, to be the first time investigated or generally a recurring act which violates the personal conduct policy. If this is the case then this would be the second offense, which I am sure gives the league even more freedom to impose any punishment they deem appropriate. Given the limited scope of the exact language contained in the policy in the article, I am not sure what the policy is for the second offense. But with my understanding of legal writing, I am virtually positive that the league has even more freedom to implement disciplinary measures upon the occurrence of a “second offense”.

  23. it's all bs says: Apr 15, 2010 11:22 PM

    “Frankly, the more we think about the contents of those witness statements, the less surprised we’d be by a suspension of eight games, or more”.
    Florio are you out of your freaking mind?
    Just because someone with a BAC of 0.20 says something happened does not mean that it happened just like they say it did….gheez this is like law school 101 here.
    No one can even collaborate this drunk out of her mind girl’s story.
    It’s a story NOT Gospel you idiot and I doubt seriously that the league sees it as anything but just that….A STORY!

  24. kbaby604 says: Apr 16, 2010 12:05 AM

    BleedGreen says:
    April 15, 2010 10:56 PM
    Anyone else think they said they won’t do anything until after the draft because the Steelers are trying to swing a trade with the Rams for the #1 pick? Since the league will supposedly defer the suspension to the Steelers, if Ben isn’t a Steeler, no suspension will be pursued. Ben did not do anything detrimental to the Rams, so they can’t suspend him for conduct detrimental to their team.
    I’m probably very very wrong, but it would be a sneaky way to avoid a suspension.
    ______________________________________________________________________
    Holmes just got suspended after he got traded to the Jets.

  25. Neoplatonist Bolthead says: Apr 16, 2010 12:07 AM

    Ya know… this isn’t a first offense.
    I mean, not necessarily, in League terms. Reno isn’t punishable by suspension, okay. But this is #2.

  26. spliffbunker says: Apr 16, 2010 12:08 AM

    now that the Georgia investigation is over with no charges filed…wouldnt the NFL instigate a pretty through investigation of Roethlisberger?
    dont know what NFL security is like now but there used to be some serious LE types there & I have no reason to think its changed
    there is no doubt that he is & will be considered a rapist in the court of public opinion…doubt any amount of PR spin will ever change that
    the NFL or the Steelers may announce some type of discipline quickly to appease the media/public & hope they can put it behind them
    but the NFL needs to find out if Ben is simply the misogynist moron he appears to be ( at best )
    or worse

  27. Sting Ray says: Apr 16, 2010 12:16 AM

    Florio writes: “Frankly, the more we think about the contents of those witness statements, the less surprised we’d be by a suspension of eight games, or more.”
    I think this comment is noteworthy because Florio has been talking consistently that he saw this as a two game suspension. When you read the statements of the witnesses, it has an affect on you. I think that if these statements are reported widely, the league will see a strong backlash of sentiment about this whole situation that will be interpreted as threatening the NFL brand.
    It really doesn’t matter what city you live in or team you cheer, this behaviour is predatory and who wants to watch a person who intentionally schemes to do this stuff.
    I was wondering why the Steelers and the NFL didn’t dole out the discipline this week, now it’s clear. They want to gauage the backlash from the released criminal investigation.
    I’m live in Cincinnati, a Bengals fan, but honestly, this just is really disappointing and sucks. I could care less about the football part of it. Heck, give the Steelers another Super Bowl season and dominate my Bengals, just get this guy out of the League.

  28. TheBottomLine says: Apr 16, 2010 12:17 AM

    Enough is enough, I am a life long Steelers fan, and I have heard enough. TRADE HIM NOW!!!
    I would rather have Kordell Stewart or Bubby Brister than Ben at this point in time.
    Give Dixon a chance, and pick up Tebow with the first rounder at worst. Best case scenario trade with the Rams.

  29. p911 says: Apr 16, 2010 1:36 AM

    As is normal we make things much harder than it should be. Most of us, fans, who have employement or have an employment contract or are at will employees and at acceptance of employment are given the company rules for the job. Included in this packet from the employer are the rules and regulations of the company and included with them are the accepted rules relating to a persons conduct. Criminal activitys are covered in all of these policys. Non criminal conduct is also covered in most and I would believe a simple line worker, could after two episodes of like conduct could get released not just suspended from work for up to 4 games. We should let this work though the proccess.
    It would be wrong for both the league and team to both penalize the employee.

  30. BigBear123 says: Apr 16, 2010 3:20 AM

    If Warden Goodell wishes to see his NFL continue to expand he needs to start kicking some of these idiots out indefinitely.
    If Rapistburger was the brand or face of any other company or enterprise he would have been handed his walking papers already. You can only use the “athletes are different” for so long.
    No other top tier company allows a convicted felon to rehab their image while working a few months after leaving federal prison. Goodell wants QB’s to be the face of the NFL. Those faces are currently of Vick and Rapistburger, not Brady, Manning or Romo.
    You will not reach growth of $25 billion per year by 2027 with those guys being your product image.

  31. Pantherfan10 says: Apr 16, 2010 5:39 AM

    Wasn’t this precident already set with Pac-man? He was never convicted

  32. awfflpete says: Apr 16, 2010 5:42 AM

    Out of all the people defending Roethlisberger, I’d like to know what percentage of them are Steelers fans and/or have him on their fantasy football teams.

  33. Rev. Dr. HollywoodWags says: Apr 16, 2010 6:16 AM

    “Top tier companies don’t put up with that kind of BS, regardless of how talented the employees are. ”
    Bill Clinton.

  34. rondevous says: Apr 16, 2010 7:12 AM

    I think the likely suspension will only be based on what Ben has admitted to league and their investigators. He has admitted to being drunk. He admits he had sex with this young girl he just met. He had sex with her in a bathroom. He lasted all of 180 seconds and then he left. Plus if answered favorably to the question of whether or not he bought her silence then for sure this is conduct unbecoming a NFL player and subject to suspension. The witness accounts won’t even be considered.

  35. wryly1 says: Apr 16, 2010 7:37 AM

    Silverback – you are just plain factually WRONG!!! Roethlisberger didn’t give any statement to authorities. He refused to cooperate with the investigation and give his side of the story because it would only further incrimate him. All we have is an admission from his lawyers that he had sexual contact with her in a public restroom stall.

  36. hairball says: Apr 16, 2010 7:53 AM

    Richard says:
    April 15, 2010 10:55 PM
    Suppose Roger Goodell were a woman?
    —————————————-
    Then Ben’s DNA would be all over his office.

  37. BigBear123 says: Apr 16, 2010 8:04 AM

    “Top tier companies
    —————
    Bill Clinton.
    —————
    Government is an entity of it’s own and far from running smoothly. Nothing else has annual deficits in the trillions and climbing.

  38. UckTheFeagles says: Apr 16, 2010 8:04 AM

    Rothlisburger screwed up so bad they now have to create new rules to deal with him…can this situation get any worse?

  39. 4-time-ace says: Apr 16, 2010 8:06 AM

    @sassers420
    The NFLPA is not going to do anything. They are in the midst of trying to leverage more money out of the owners in the next CBA. De Smith is trying hard to put a white hat on the players in the court of public opinion. Standing up to defend Roethlisberger given the facts published yesterday in the investigation reports would seriously damage that effort. Remember, perception IS reality. The public doesn’t have a standard of “reasonable doubt” and can choose to believe what they want no matter what the “law” says about his culpability.

  40. BleedGreen says: Apr 16, 2010 8:10 AM

    kbaby604 says:
    April 16, 2010 12:05 AM
    Holmes just got suspended after he got traded to the Jets.
    __________________________________
    Holmes was suspended by the league. There are charges against him. I thought I read that the league was not going to punish Ben, that they would defer to the Steelers.

  41. HandsofSweed says: Apr 16, 2010 8:16 AM

    Speaking of being factually wrong, wryly1, Ben did give a statement to the authorities the night of the alleged incident. You missed that part, not surprisingly.

  42. BigDiceBuddha says: Apr 16, 2010 8:37 AM

    I think this is all too PC. Can your place of employment suspend you for conduct detrimental to your job? Most of them can. I don’t see why we have to tip toe around this so much.

  43. wryly1 says: Apr 16, 2010 8:39 AM

    HandsofSweed – produce that statement? Is it exculpatory of BR? Ya think the NFL and Steelers haven’t investigated, too – and don’t have a darn good idea what happened? Ya think Ben wanted everything made public? Don’t be so naive – get a grip and come out of denial.

  44. Danwhitmer says: Apr 16, 2010 8:51 AM

    This article stinks! Read the transcripts of the case and the “Witness statements” Ben was wrong. The ONLY reason the DA did not proceed was because he knew it was not a winnable case against a well known public figure. The so called “Letter” that was recieved by the DA to not proceed with charges is a bunch of bs!!! She was paid off and we all know it. Since there was a change in words from “I told him this is not ok” to I told him I am not comfortable with this” and “I am not sure we should be doing this” between her 2 statements that was enough for reasonable doubt. The fact he had 2 PA officers with him keep her friends from trying to get back to her until he was done with her is SICK…. All 3 of them should be procecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But that will not happen because of a simple change of words. Anyone who can read those statements and tell me that Ben was not wrong for taking a 20 year old girl, get her drunk and then have his flunkies grab her and lead her to a hall way so he could have sex with her without invitation is just a homer.

  45. Drat says: Apr 16, 2010 8:55 AM

    Bravo Florio. I spend enough posts complaining about Florio’s lack of football smarts, but this item pertains to where he excels. Very interesting, informative, insightful. Nice job.

  46. Just JTO says: Apr 16, 2010 9:01 AM

    I said before and I’ll say it again … if any of the info released by the Georgia DA is, indeed, fact, then the victim’s father is just as big of a scumbag as Roethlisberger is. I don’t see anyone talking about the dad.
    I don’t care how much money may have been offered, if my daughter was raped my No. 1 priority would be to make sure the SOB responsible would go to jail and not see the light of day for a long time. But, apparently – again if the info is true – the father saw dollar sgns and, like Big Ben, told his daughter “It’s ok.”

  47. The Real Shuxion says: Apr 16, 2010 9:06 AM

    silverback says: April 15, 2010 10:46 PM
    So everyone reads the drunk girl and her drunk sorrority sisters statements, and nobody gets to read Ben or his body guards statements, and from this Ben gets punished and convicted in public opinion????
    Is this really justice in AMERICA in 2010???? Not enough to take a case to court, but just disregard any defense or testimony on the side of the defense and convict solely on plantiff testimony.
    Would any of YOU want to be held to this standard if ever accused of anything????
    ————————————————————
    If I were in Ben’s place they would have prosecuted and I would lose my job. That is why I don’t put myself in dumb situations. (Outside the PFT SITE)

  48. MSWRavens says: Apr 16, 2010 9:11 AM

    Yeah – BR gave a statement…IN WHICH HE LIED AND FABRICATED A STORY ABOUT THE VICTIM FALLING & STRIKING HER HEAD. She was examined in an emergency room & there was NO evidence of her striking her head…but she did have vaginal bruising and bleeding. Gee, why do you think BR made up a tale to try and explain marks on the woman’s body?
    …and for all you jackasses trying to defend BR, even IF the sex was consensual, it was with a highly intoxiacted 20 yo whom he plied with shots of alcohol. He’s 28yo and hanging in a college bar and feeding shots to underage girls and then has his bodyguard “feed” one of them to him. Are you not in the least bit offended by this creep. Can you really ever root for him again?
    I love all the calls to trade the guy…what team in its right mind would take him on their roster? He is pure scum whether you believe he raped her or not. I can’t even believe that you Steeler fans defend this conduct, would want this creature on your team, or will ever cheer for him again. Y’all should be ashamed of yourselves…compromising your own morality for the love of a freakin sports team! Sheesh!

  49. The Real Shuxion says: Apr 16, 2010 9:17 AM

    # Big Stretch says: April 15, 2010 11:11 PM
    Ohh yeah i was sexually molested last week by Tom Brady so he should be suspended right?
    —————————————————————
    You should be honored that Tom would molest you. He has the hands of the football gods themselves. Glow in his greatness and be in awe over his anus chin.

  50. BigDiceBuddha says: Apr 16, 2010 9:25 AM

    Maybe we could have read Ben’s statements if he had actually cooperated with the authorities and given them one like they asked him to do.

  51. bluestree says: Apr 16, 2010 9:35 AM

    @Sting Ray; Good analysis.
    To all of you who keep posting things like “he wasn’t charged”… “nothing was proven”… “Goodell is Stalin”… “our forefathers would be rolling in their graves (interestingly, if Thomas Jefferson were alive today he’d probably be in jail for raping Sally Hemmings)”…or my personal favorite ….”gheez this is like law school 101 here. No one can even collaborate this drunk out of her mind girl’s story.”
    (Norm Crosby Lives!)
    Try to get this…this is about image…the Steeler brand…public opinion…knowing how to behave in public…showing a sense of decency and recognizing your place in the grand scheme of American celebrity…undersatanding your responsibilty to conduct yourself in a proper manner as you are a goowill ambassador for an employer that operates under public scrutiny because heightened public interest in what you do is how you make your money and promote your sport! The private lives of sports figures are of interest to the fans and thereby increase the revenue of the sport. Celebrity is a benefit! It comes with behavioral requirements.
    In the 1920′s one of the most famous, most popular celebrities was the comedian Fatty Arbuckle. Many of you probably haven’t heard of him. Because he got caught up in a sleazy sex scandal that made the papers, his career was ruined.
    How hard is that to understand?

  52. HughJohnson says: Apr 16, 2010 10:09 AM

    Suspend a proven molester for 8 games?
    How shocking.

  53. funi says: Apr 16, 2010 3:22 PM

    So does Jerry Jones get fined $500,000 and out in substance abuse program? Video proves he was drunk! Did he drive afterwards? Ronnie Brown got a DUI, what is his punishment? I guess now any “accusations” will be at leasta 2 game suspension. Does Shawn Merriman get suspended for what Tila said he did??

  54. Bious says: Apr 16, 2010 6:33 PM

    So basically we are suspending players based purely on accusations….even when the DA’s say they found NO EVIDENCE of the accusation?
    Interesting….I should start accusing my rival teams players of crimes since that is the new “line” that needs to be crossed for a suspension

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