Steelers unsure of quarterback's status
Ben Roethlisberger has completed the behavioral evaluation ordered by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as part of the quarterback's six-game suspension for an alleged sexual assault, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed source.
Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now waiting for word when the quarterback will be cleared by Goodell to resume workouts. Voluntary practices are scheduled for May 18-20, May 25-27, June 1-3 and June 8-10.
On April 21, Goodell suspended the two-time Super Bowl winner for the first six games of the season and also ordered him to undergo a behavioral evaluation following a March incident in which a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexual assault in Milledgeville, Ga. The case will not be prosecuted.
Roethlisberger is the first player suspended by Goodell under the conduct policy who has not been arrested or charged with a crime. Goodell said the league's conduct policy gave him the right to impose discipline regardless of whether Roethlisberger broke the law.
The suspension can be reduced to four games if Roethlisberger completes an evaluation mandated by the league, any action that is mandated by that evaluation and he remains out of trouble. He can practice during training camp and play in preseason games, but cannot return to game action until at least Oct. 17.
Roethlisberger's image has taken a hit in Pittsburgh.
Tales once whispered about Roethlisberger skipping out on restaurant bills or refusing to pay cover charges or greens fees have suddenly become common knowledge. Suddenly, people remember that he often scribbles only a handful of autographs a day during training camp.
Mark Baranowski is among those who hopes he never sees Roethlisberger again.
The owner of the popular Cabana Bar, near Roethlisberger's home in Gibsonia, once saw the quarterback regularly -- Roethlisberger even staged a party there on the one-year anniversary of his motorcycle crash.
But, fed up with Roethlisberger's attitude, manners and shenanigans, Baranowski got the word out -- every other Steelers player could enjoy themselves at his place for free. But Roethlisberger had to fork over the cover charge he always balked at paying. Roethlisberger hasn't been back.
"He's not a good guy," Baranowski said.
Many seem to share his opinion. Pittsburghers have peeled the once-ubiquitous "Big Ben 7" stickers off their bumpers, banned their children from wearing his jerseys or simply dumped the expensive uniform tops in the trash. Nationally, Roethlisberger's jersey dropped out of the NFL top 25 in sales in April after ranking 11th for the year ending March 31.
When news of Roethlisberger's suspension was flashed on the PNC Park scoreboard on April 21, fans booed loudly -- at the player, not the punishment.
Not long after that, the Pittsburgh Zoo took Roethlisberger's name off a totem pole comparing his height to that of an elephant. They replaced it with that of hockey Hall of Famer and Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux after zoo guests complained.
There's no more Big Ben's Beef Jerky, either -- the product's owner cut ties with Roethlisberger, saying it no longer wanted to be associated with him.
Two months ago, coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers expect their players' conduct to be "above and beyond that of our peers." Yet the Roethlisberger incident and the recent trading of Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets only after a series of off-field issues has led the Steelers to be compared to the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders, teams with a history of employing troubled players.
The Roethlisberger situation is especially worrisome to Dan Rooney, the Steelers' primary owner and chairman emeritus who was appointed ambassador to Ireland by President Barack Obama. Rooney's son, team president Art Rooney II, runs the team on a daily basis and ultimately made the decision to keep Roethlisberger.
While Dan Rooney has mostly watched the Roethlisberger affair play out from a distance, those close to him know how much the case has troubled the man who ran the Steelers on a daily basis for more than 30 years.
"My job is to be in Ireland," the elder Rooney said during a recent visit to Pittsburgh. "I would just say it's a serious matter, and it's being handled properly by [management]. I think they're handling it very well."
While Art II has maintained a calm but stern stance -- he worked with Goodell to determine the length of the suspension -- his unhappiness with Roethlisberger is well known within a tightlipped but tidily run organization. To date, only director of football operations Kevin Colbert has dared to offer any public support for Roethlisberger, saying the quarterback has earned the right to attempt to turn his life around.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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