Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was involved in an alleged sexual assault in Georgia last month but who was not slapped with any criminal charges, was punished severely Wednesday by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Saying that Roethlisberger violated the NFL's personal conduct policy, Goodell suspended the quarterback six games and ordered him to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation by league-appointed experts. The suspension can be reduced to four games based on a subsequent evaluation, or it can be lengthened if Roethlisberger continues to engage in behavior that violates the conduct policy.
Sitting out all six games would cost Roethlisberger an estimated $2.8 million of his $102-million total deal.
Meanwhile, the Steelers explored the possibility of trading Roethlisberger in advance of today's NFL draft, which begins at 7:30 p.m. at Radio City Music Hall. The Steelers would only deal Roethlisberger to a team with a high first-round pick, and it appeared the Raiders, who have the eighth choice, were at least somewhat interested.
In a letter to Roethlisberger, Goodell said he must submit to any counseling or treatment recommended by professional evaluators to help him make better decisions and avoid situations that can cause legal or other problems. A professional behavioral evaluation is mandatory for anyone that has violated the NFL Personal Conduct Policy. Roethlisberger may not attend any team offseason activity until he has completed the evaluation. If so cleared, Roethlisberger will be able to participate in training camp and preseason games this summer.
"In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people," Goodell wrote. "I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track."
Roethlisberger was accused by a 20-year-old college student of the assault at a Milledgeville, Ga. club on March 5. He was not brought up on criminal charges.
"I recognize that the allegations in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you," Goodell wrote. "My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans."
Steelers president Art Rooney II said he supported Goodell's decision. Roethlisberger's agent, Ryan Tollner, said that "at some point" the quarterback or his representatives will speak on the matter. Goodell and Rooney informed Roethlisberger of the decision in the morning. The team also conducted its own investigation and "we felt we had all the information we needed to have this decision be made," Rooney said.
"Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare," Goodell wrote.