Toll on Big Ben is more than money

Commissioner Roger Goodell’s much-anticipated ruling on Steelers star Ben Roethlisberger was stern and expected. Here are 10 thoughts about the six-game suspension, with a potential reduction to four games.

1. This was as comprehensive an investigation and interview process into a player’s behavior as the league has conducted. Goodell truly wanted to “get this right.” There were multiple phone discussions and written correspondence between Roethlisberger’s camp and Goodell, senior executive Jeff Pash and league security. In the end, the face-to-face between Goodell and Roethlisberger, I’m told, was truly impactful.

2. The suspension became a negotiation. Roethlisberger’s camp was hoping for four games, with upward or downward potential to a minimum of two or maximum of six. That offer was discussed and considered by the commissioner and the Rooneys, but there was no way this suspension was going to be potentially reduced to two games. Wasn’t happening.

3. All cases are not created equal. This was clearly a “message” suspension, as all players, team executives and owners were watching. Goodell received input from many sources – his “kitchen cabinet” of trusted advisers, players and owners including, of course, the Rooneys, who own the Steelers. The overriding message was to err on the side of strict.

4. Goodell responds most harshly when there is a “pattern of behavior.” Roethlisberger has appeared – whether the perception is real or not – to be out of control in his personal life.

5. The “rolling suspension” model, used in the Michael Vick case last summer, is here to stay. With five months before Roethlisberger can take a snap from center, it allows an opportunity for behavior to be evaluated over a long sample. If he can’t be on his best behavior and stay clean as a whistle during this period, he may have a bigger problem than we know.

6. I don’t put much stock in the trade talk. Roethlisberger met with Art Rooney II and coach Mike Tomlin, and the subject was not broached. Also, the Steelers -- never a team to spend money frivolously —have paid over $35 million on the present contract. With six years remaining at nonguaranteed salaries, the contract would hold good value for an acquiring team. But Roethlisberger is radioactive right now. It would take a true “win-at-all-costs” mentality for a team to try selling the acquisition of this toxic player.

7. There does exist the potential for a slippery slope. What happens to the next player who does something inappropriate with a woman at a bar or home? We know that will happen. What if the behavior is an isolated instance but results in a sexual assault charge, unlike Roethlisberger? There will be difficult decisions ahead.

8. The suspension is one thing; the overwhelmingly negative public reaction to Roethlisberger is another. From my classes at Wharton business school to readers here at the National Football Post to people I encounter, there is disgust for Roethlisberger. The tide turned with the release of the sordid details of the police report. The difficult part for the Roethlisberger camp to swallow is that some of the statements from sober witnesses flatly deny some of the allegations of the accuser and challenge her credibility. That doesn’t excuse inappropriate behavior, but one does wonder if the truth lies somewhere in between their two stories.

9. It’s no surprise that the discipline came from Goodell and not the Steelers, who didn’t want to be limited to the four-game “conduct detrimental” catch-all that could be potentially appealed to an independent arbitrator. This suspension at this time for this player needed to be on a bigger stage than one team’s discipline.

10. Roethlisberger not only has his career at stake in complying with the guidelines of the suspension, he also has 947,000 reasons to do so. At a salary of $8.05M, he was scheduled to make $473,529 per game, of which four of those checks, a total of $1.9M, are now history. With good behavior, he can save another two games worth of salary, or $947,000. Again, if Roethlisberger ends up not able to do so, or somehow adds to it, he has a bigger life problem than we know.

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