Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger escaped criminal prosecution by the Milledgeville, Ga., police department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation because there wasn't enough evidence to file sexual assault charges. But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday that Roethlisberger's pattern of behavior provided all the evidence he needed to suspend the two-time Super Bowl winner four to six games Wednesday under the league's personal-conduct policy.
Questioned during a meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors about what some might see as a lack of due process, Goodell said the league's investigation was transparent and exhaustive. He spoke directly to "experts in the criminal side, psychological side, behavioral side,'' and dozens of players and Roethlisberger and his representatives were interviewed.
"I am not a believer that you have to wait for criminal behavior to act,'' Goodell said. "Our personal-conduct policy contemplates this.''
The key, in Goodell's view, was Roethlisberger's established pattern of behavior. He previously was sued for sexual assault by a woman in Reno, Nev., although he has not been criminally charged in that case.
"When that pattern develops, the whole point of our policy that we developed with our players is early intervention to try to prevent somebody from having a criminal charge or conviction and going to jail,'' Goodell said. "Is that what you want us to do? Wait for people to go to jail? I think that's foolish.''
Goodell resisted comparisons with how the NBA handled sexual assault allegations against Lakers star Kobe Bryant. After the criminal case collapsed and the civil suit was settled, the league did not pursue further discipline.
"I don't control the NBA,'' Goodell said. "I control the National Football League. Not control, but my responsibilities are our reputation, our integrity . . . We're all held to that standard whether you're a player or a coach or a commissioner. It specifically states you do not have to violate law or be charged or convicted if there's a pattern of behavior.''
Goodell said Roethlisberger must follow his treatment. Should new incidents come to light, the punishment could be re-evaluated. "We have a right as an institution to be able to protect that reputation, and we're doing that. I don't have to rely on a court to do that,'' Goodell said.