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Steelers QB Roethlisberger cancels press conference amid civil lawsuit

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  • By NFL.com Wire Reports
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Amid allegations of sexual assault, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger canceled a Thursday press conference that was associated with a reality television show he was scheduled to appear on, a team spokesman said.

Steelers communications coordinator Dave Lockett on Tuesday confirmed details of an earlier report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. According to the newspaper, the press conference was set to take place at the Steelers' facility to promote Roethlisberger's appearance on a show with NBA star Shaquille O'Neal. The show still will be taped Friday, ABC spokesman Edwin Escobar said in an e-mail Wednesday.

A woman has filed a lawsuit in Reno, Nev., accusing Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting her last summer in his penthouse room at a Harrah's casino in Lake Tahoe during a celebrity golf tournament. However, local authorities said Wednesday they won't open a criminal investigation into the matter unless the woman files a complaint, which she hasn't done.

Ben Roethlisberger , QB
Pittsburgh Steelers

2008 Statistics
Comp/Att: 281/469
Passing Yards: 3,301
TD/INT: 17/15

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday that he's looking into the allegations against Roethlisberger, one of the biggest names in sports. He has won two Super Bowl titles in his five-year career and is about to report to training camp as the Steelers look to repeat as champions.

"I don't know enough of the details, but it's a civil lawsuit, it's something that we obviously will look into," Goodell said when asked about it in New York during an unrelated news conference. "I've been in touch with the Steelers about it."

Roethlisberger's lawyer adamantly denied the allegations.

"Ben has never sexually assaulted anyone," David Cornwell said in a statement. "The timing of the lawsuit and the absence of a criminal complaint and a criminal investigation are the most compelling evidence of the absence of any criminal conduct. If an investigation is commenced, Ben will cooperate fully and Ben will be fully exonerated."

Cornwell didn't reply to a phone message and an e-mail seeking more comment.

In speaking with the Associated Press, Lockett said the Steelers are aware of the lawsuit and "gathering information." Lockett told the Post-Gazette in Pittsburgh that neither Steelers president Art Rooney II nor coach Mike Tomlin would comment on the lawsuit against Roethlisberger.

"At this point, we've heard his side of the story," Lockett told the newspaper. "We're not expecting to make a statement. All I would say is we're aware of it, it's in litigation and we can't comment on it. That's where we're leaving it at this point."

The lawsuit seeks a minimum of $440,000 in damages from Roethlisberger, at least $50,000 in damages from Harrah's officials and an unspecified amount of punitive damages "sufficient to deter" the quarterback and the others "from engaging in such conduct in the future."

In the lawsuit, the woman says she didn't file a criminal complaint because she feared Harrah's would side with Roethlisberger and she would be fired.

Douglas County Sheriff's Deputy Teresa Duffy said Wednesday the woman would have to file a criminal complaint to trigger a police investigation into the alleged incident.

"The victim is the only one who can do that," Duffy told The Associated Press. "Unless there was a third party that actually witnessed the incident, which according to the civil case, was not the case here."

According to the lawsuit, the woman was working as an executive host at Harrah's last July when she said Roethlisberger struck up a friendly conversation at her desk during the golf tournament.

The next night -- July 11, 2008 -- she said Roethlisberger telephoned her to tell her that his television sound system wasn't working and asked her to look at it. She said she was unable to find a technician so she handled it herself because she had been told it was important to please the celebrities.

In Roethlisberger's room, the woman said she determined the TV was functioning properly, but as she turned to leave, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound quarterback stood in front of the door and blocked her, the suit claims.

In the lawsuit, the woman said Roethlisberger then grabbed her and started to kiss her. The woman said she was "shocked and stunned that this previously friendly man, that appeared to be a gentleman in her previous contacts with him was suddenly preventing her from leaving, was assaulting her and battering her."

According to the lawsuit, the woman required hospitalization for treatment for depression after the alleged attack.

Efforts to reach the woman Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The woman's lawyer, Calvin R. Dunlap, of Reno, declined to answer questions about the lack of a criminal complaint and why the civil action was brought one year after the incident allegedly took place.

"Neither I nor our client will be making any comment," Dunlap said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "We believe the matter should be resolved in court rather than in the media."

The lawsuit also names eight Harrah's employees as defendants and alleges that the cover-up involved the chief of security at Harrah's Lake Tahoe and was carried out with the knowledge of John Koster, president of Harrah's northern Nevada operations.

John Packer, spokesman for the hotel-casino, didn't immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Harrah's Entertainment, the hotel-casino's parent company, declined comment.

"We don't comment on pending legal matters," Jacqueline Peterson said from company headquarters in Las Vegas.

According to the lawsuit, Harrah's security chief Guy Hyder gained the trust of the woman's parents while she was hospitalized for depression and persuaded them to give him a key to her home. The woman said Hyder and others then entered her home and allegedly erased information from her computer and confiscated it.

The lawsuit claims that when the woman first reported the attack to Hyder, he dismissed her distress and crying and said she was "overreacting."

The lawsuit also accuses the defendants of defaming the woman. It said they also made false statements about her physical and mental health, including reportedly telling others she was hospitalized for schizophrenia when they knew her "problems arose out of having been sexually assaulted."

Last week, Roethlisberger played in the 20th annual American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament at Lake Tahoe, finishing tied for 30th in the field of 89 golfers. It wasn't immediately known if he stayed at Harrah's.

In 2006, Roethlisberger made his first public appearance at the tournament after having nearly died in a motorcycle accident the previous month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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