Big Ben can't plead Fifth in commissioner's office

BY foxsports • March 24, 2010

The best thing Ben Roethlisberger has going for him at the moment is Tiger Woods.

Big Ben is being investigated by the cops, called out by his coach and sometime soon, he'll be sent to the commissioner's office to explain why he keeps turning up in the wrong place at the wrong time. And if Woods wasn't commandeering so much of the 24/7 news cycle, who knows how much more heat Roethlisberger would be feeling.

No matter. Plenty is already riding on what he has to say.

At the very least, a second allegation of sexual misconduct in less than two years makes Roethlisberger an embarrassment to the Steelers, a franchise that likes to say it operates on a higher plane than the rest of the NFL. Still to be determined is whether this latest incident also makes even a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback expendable.

``I think it's well known that we're very, very conscious about how we do business,'' Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting. ``We have a very high concern about our image and how we conduct ourselves that I think is above and beyond our peers, and we embrace that.''

The Steelers come by their holier-than-thou attitude honestly. They've won more Super Bowls than any rival because the people at the top of the organization take a long view of things, showing loyalty and patience to coaches and players over the years and reaping the rewards. But Roethlisberger is clearly getting on their nerves.

Steelers president Art Rooney and Tomlin both made a point of saying no action will be taken until authorities complete their investigation into claims by a 20-year-old college student that Roethlisberger assaulted her March 5 in a Georgia nightclub not far from his summer home. Yet both noted had the timing been different, they might not have been inclined to wait.

And either way, NFL boss Roger Goodell is free to act whenever - and however - he pleases. The commissioner promised to hold players to a higher standard and he's been as good as his word, suspending Michael Vick and several other players before they were convicted of crimes.

``We take this issue very seriously,'' Goodell said a day earlier at those same NFL meetings, adding that he told Rooney about his intention to sit down with Roethlisberger. ``I am concerned that Ben continues to put himself in this position.''

No criminal charges have been lodged in Georgia against the quarterback so far, and none resulted from a claim by another woman that Roethlisberger raped her in 2008 at a Lake Tahoe hotel. On advice from his attorney, veteran criminal defense lawyer Ed Garland, Roethlisberger has declined to be interviewed by authorities in Georgia.

``Ben is completely innocent of any crime,'' Garland said. ``The truth of the events should cause this investigation to end without a criminal charge.''

Roethlisberger denied assaulting the woman in Nevada as well, responding to her civil lawsuit by asking for counter-damages. It's possible, of course, that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time - even twice. What doesn't add up is why Roethlisberger was in such a rush to put himself in jeopardy again, this time with his entourage and a host of college-aged girls in tow for a bar crawl across town on the other side of the country.

His numbers put him in the same class as such elite QBs as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, but it's his recklessness that sets him apart. We knew Roethlisberger was big on risks. That was apparent from his devastating motorcycle accident five years ago - riding without a helmet, he suffered a concussion and multiple facial fractures - to the way Roethlisberger insisted on playing through four more concussions in the four seasons after that.

Despite mounting evidence, the NFL initially was slow to acknowledge the dangers concussions cause. The league has tried to make up for some of that lost time with rules that limit blows to the head and requires a concussed player to sit out one or more games. As a result of those and other rules, no player is better protected today than the quarterback.

Yet Roethlisberger has already demonstrated standing in the pocket behind a porous offensive line is far from the biggest risk he's willing to take. And if Goodell fails to impress on him how much danger his off-the-field forays pose, getting sacked will be the least of Roethlisberger's worries.

Even the commissioner, after all, can only do so much to protect a player from himself.

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org.



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