Commentary

NFL, Steelers will want explanations

Originally Published: April 9, 2010
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

The NFL and Pittsburgh Steelers will await official word Monday on whether Ben Roethlisberger will be charged with sexual assault, but ESPN's report that the quarterback will not be charged must come as a huge relief to the league, the Steelers and Roethlisberger.

Once official word comes down, the NFL and the Steelers can move at a slower pace and with less pressure. Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the owners meetings in March that he will have Roethlisberger fly to New York to discuss his two off-the-field incidents. Under the NFL Personal Conduct Policy, the commissioner has the right to suspend a player if he has repeated issues such as those faced by Roethlisberger, who has had two women make sexual assault accusations against him in the past year.

Goodell will want to know why Roethlisberger puts himself in these situations. After hearing an explanation, the commissioner could suspend him for a game or two or suggest counseling. Much will depend on how Roethlisberger explains himself.

The Steelers also will want explanations. Sources close to the Steelers indicated the Rooney family was furious when it heard the first reports of the sexual assault allegations by the 20-year-old Georgia woman.

Although Roethlisberger's off-the-field behavior hasn't affected his play on the field yet, the league and the Steelers are very concerned.

Roethlisberger, 28, who already owns two Super Bowl rings, is one of the NFL's most important players. If he continues to excel on the field and the Steelers win another Super Bowl ring or two, he could be a Hall of Famer. Although Roethlisberger isn't as close to his teammates as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or other top quarterbacks are, he has so much talent that his teammates respect what he does on the field.

Wisely, Roethlisberger stayed away from the opening of the offseason program while he awaited a decision on whether he was going to be charged. After Monday, he can start to think about football again. As far as the big picture, Roethlisberger's career as the Steelers' starting quarterback will continue. What must change, though, is the situations he puts himself in outside the game. This incident put his career under close review. If he doesn't learn from this and mature, his career could face dire consequences in the future.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer