Roethlisberger suspended in unprecedented NFL case

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, in what Ben Roethlisberger's attorney called an unprecedented move, suspended the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback for six games under the league's player-conduct policy Wednesday.

Goodell elected to suspend Roethlisberger for his actions in an alcohol-fueled evening in Milledgeville that ended with allegations of a sexual assault by a 20-year-old college student.

Roethlisberger's actions did not lead to any criminal charges. However, in the view of the NFL, he overstepped the league's mandate of decency and public deportment under its player-conduct policy.

"It just so happens that this is an unprecedented case to the extent that Ben was neither charged or arrested or found to be involved in criminal activity," said noted attorney David Cornwell, who represented Roethlisberger. "That's generally been the reach of the conduct policy. But in our discussions, [Goodell] made it clear that he believes this is within the scope of conduct policy and that it was appropriate for him to take a look at it and respond."

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players' Association, monitored the case but did not get involved.

Goodell notified Roethlisberger via telephone that he must undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation and will be suspended without pay for the first six games of the 2010 regular season for his conduct.

The NFL concluded that Roethlisberger imposed "inherent danger to the safety and well-being of another person" and noted the district attorney concluded that he contributed to the irresponsible consumption of alcohol by buying drinks or college students, some of whom where already intoxicated.

"The personal-conduct policy also states that discipline is appropriate for conduct that ‘undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players.’ By any measure, your conduct satisfies that standard,” Goodell wrote in a letter sent to the quarterback.

The Steelers, one of the league's top franchises of the modern era, support the commissioner's decision.

"I believe that the discipline was appropriate in this case," Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a conference call.

During five or six discussions with Goodell, Cornwell hoped to minimize Roethlisberger's suspension.

"While we are disappointed about the level of discipline imposed, we feel like we got a full opportunity to make sure that our issues were heard," Cornwell said.

Roethlisberger could find himself on a new team soon. Earlier this month, the Steelers traded wide receiver Santonio Holmes, Super Bowl XLIII's most valuable player, to the New York Jets after an off-the-field incident.

"We really can't answer questions about trades, particularly at this time of the year," Rooney said. "We go into every draft with the thought that we are going to do anything we can to make our team a better football team. We just have to stick with that and really not discuss trades in advance."

Goodell said his decision was based in part on the review of the reports released by the GBI, the Milledgeville Police Department, public comments by and a private conversation with district attorney Fred Bright, a personal interview with Roethlisberger and information learned by the NFL office in the course of examining the Milledgeville matter.

Last year, a woman claimed she was raped by the quarterback in 2008 in a Lake Tahoe, Nev., hotel room. Although no criminal charges were filed, the woman, Andrea McNulty, filed a civil suit against Roethlisberger to compel him to make a public admission, give her an apology and $100,000.

Under the league's policy, a professional behavioral evaluation is mandatory. Once the evaluation is completed, Roethlisberger might be allowed to return to the team for training camp and practices. However, Goodell said he would review Roethlisberger's progress before the start of the NFL regular season and consider whether to reduce his suspension to four games.

If Roethlisberger's fails to cooperate, the suspension could be longer.

Roethlisberger will not be available to the Steelers when they open the season against the Falcons on Sept. 12 in Pittsburgh. The Steelers tried to secure themselves against the suspension by trading for Byron Leftwich on Tuesday. Leftwich, who played part of the 2007 season with the Falcons, was Roethlisberger's backup in 2008 for the Steelers.

Before Goodell became commissioner, the league's longest suspension were the one-year suspensions of Paul Hornung and Alex Karras in 1963 for betting on NFL games.

Under Goodell's more stringent conduct policy, he has suspended former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, Adam "Pac Man" Jones, Tank Johnson, Chris Henry, Donte Stallworth, Ricky Manning, Joey Porter and Plaxico Burress.

In August 2007, Goodell suspended Vick indefinitely after he entered a guilty plea to federal dogfighting charges.

Jones, who played at Westlake High, had 10 separate incidents with law enforcement and was facing felony charges when he was suspended in 2007. He was later reinstated and then suspended indefinitely in October 2008.

Henry, who died in an unrelated auto accident in December, was arrested five times before being suspended in 2007.

Johnson, who played in Super Bowl XLI for the Chicago Bears while charges were pending against him, was subsequently suspended in 2007.

After an accident in which a man died, Stallworth was suspended indefinitely without pay following his guilty plea to DUI manslaughter. He was recently reinstated.

Manning was suspended one game in 2006 after pleading guilty to a felony assault charge.

In 2007, Porter was fined three game checks for making disparaging remarks about NFL officials.

The league has a separate policy that covers alcohol and drug abuse.

Cornwell also represented Stallworth in his discipline matter with the league.

"In the other cases that I've worked on, [Goodell has] been very clear on what his objective is," Cornwell said. "Which is to respond to situations where players are involved in conduct that places them, their teammates, NFL players and the league generally in a bad light."

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