The NFL cracked down on one of its stars yesterday, suspending Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first six games of the season, even though he avoided sexual assault charges in Georgia.
The two-time Super Bowl winner was banned without pay for violating the league’s personal conduct policy and ordered to undergo a “comprehensive behavioral evaluation by professionals.’’
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed down the punishment a week after prosecutors decided not to charge Roethlisberger in a case involving a 20-year-old college student who accused him of sexually assaulting her in a Milledgeville, Ga., nightclub last month.
“I recognize that the allegations in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you,’’ Goodell said in his letter to the six-year veteran.
“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.’’
Goodell said team offseason activities were off limits to the quarterback until he completes the evaluation and is cleared by the league to rejoin the Steelers.
“Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare,’’ Goodell wrote.
Trade rumors immediately swirled, and while the Steelers declined to address the speculation, they were privately weighing whether they should consider dealing their franchise quarterback for a top-10 draft pick if one were offered.
Sitting out all six games would cost Roethlisberger an estimated $2.8 million of his $102 million total deal, though the penalty could be shortened to four games for good behavior.
Roethlisberger is the first player suspended by Goodell under the conduct policy who hasn’t been arrested or charged with a crime.