That new beefed-up policy regarding domestic violence, sexual assault, and assault and battery generally imposes real and substantial penalties, especially for a second offense.
But plenty of questions remain officially unanswered, including what precisely constitutes an offense.
ESPN has reported that an offense would arise only upon an adjudication resulting in responsibility being imposed on the player, via a conviction at trial, a guilty plea, a plea of no contest, or admission to a diversionary program. If accurate, this means that players who aren’t criminally prosecuted will never face scrutiny.
Which means that the new policy may have not applied to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
His first offense was a lawsuit for sexual assault, filed in Nevada. He never was arrested or charged criminally, and the case eventually was settled without an admission of guilt. For his second offense, arising from an accusation of sexual assault in Milledgeville, Georgia, Roethlisberger never was arrested, charged, or even sued.
If, as ESPN has reported, the enhanced penalties apply only when a criminal case has been adjudicated, Roethlisberger wouldn’t have been eligible for punishment under the new policy.
That said, the league could have still found a way to impose some sort of discipline on Roethlisberger, especially in light of circumstances that potentially entailed Roethlisberger furnishing alcohol to a minor, a dynamic that the prosecutor specifically acknowledged in announcing that no charges would be filed.
Ultimately, the league will address and any all situations on a case-by-case basis, finding a way to impose discipline if it believes discipline is warranted. But the strict penalties (especially the minimum one-year ban for a second offense) apply only if there are two adjudications that result in responsibility for domestic violence, sexual assault, assault, or battery. If a player can avoid such an outcome — either by fighting the charges through to a verdict or by settling all claims with the alleged victim via the transfer of a large bag with a dollar sign on it — the new policy won’t apply.