Despite DA's decision, Roethlisberger may not escape punishment

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. -- With the decision by a Georgia district attorney Monday not to hand down sexual-assault criminal charges against Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers quarterback has sidestepped legal trouble again. He's expected to join his teammates in Pittsburgh for offseason workouts in the near future, as he and the Steelers attempt to move beyond the potentially damning episode.

Steelers react

Statement from Art Rooney II: "The investigation process in Georgia has been deliberate and the District Attorney's decision regarding Ben Roethlisberger speaks for itself.

"During the past few weeks I have met with Ben on a number of occasions, not only to discuss this incident, but also to discuss his commitment to making sure something like this never happens again. The Pittsburgh Steelers take the conduct of players and staff very seriously. Ben will now have to work hard to earn back the respect and trust of Steelers fans, and to live up to the leadership responsibilities we all expect of him.

"In the coming days Ben will meet with Commissioner Goodell to discuss his resolve to abide by the league's personal conduct standards. After consultation with the Commissioner, our organization will determine the next steps in this process."

It likely won't be as simple as Roethlisberger and the Steelers humbly saying that they're thankful the truth prevailed and that the American legal system proved, once again, that justice was served.

Steelers officials are on record, more than once, saying they are concerned about Roethlisberger's off-field distractions. Whether he was wrongly accused or there wasn't enough evidence to press forward, or he simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time, his name surfacing in two sexual-assault accusations does not fit the organization's image.

District Attorney Fred Bright, who announced Monday he will not pursue charges against Roethlisberger, was asked what advice he would give the quarterback.

"Grow up, cut it out, " Bright said. "You don't need to put yourself in that position. You don't need to do this. Grow up. You need to be a role model."

Even without charges being filed, the Steelers could very well impose their own discipline on Roethlisberger, including some sort of suspension. They clearly are in no mood to tolerate such negative behavior and publicity. If there was any question before Sunday, it was answered in the form of a trade of their second-best offensive player behind Roethlisberger. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes, MVP of Super Bowl XLIII, was dealt to the Jets for a fifth-round draft pick late Sunday night.

Pittsburgh, which has a record six Super Bowl championships, has been the mold for so much that's right about the NFL's franchises.

The latest accusation by a 20-year-old woman -- similar to a sexual assault civil allegation against Roethlisberger in Lake Tahoe last summer -- has blemished some of the Steelers' legacy. Regardless of whether Roethlisberger, 28, did anything inappropriate, putting himself in situations where he -- and, as a result, the team -- could be dredged through unsavory muck has prompted significant organizational consternation.

The concern doesn't stop there. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the league meetings in March that he'll have a one-on-one discussion with Roethlisberger at the "appropriate time" to talk about the quarterback's behavior. The meeting is expected to take place sometime this week.

"We take this issue very seriously," Goodell said at the meetings. "I am concerned that Ben continues to put himself in this position. I spoke with the Steelers and (team president) Art Rooney about it."

Goodell has made player conduct his calling card in his first few seasons as The Man Behind The Shield and his tolerance for events that not only lead to arrests, but that cast the NFL in a negative light, is very low. Goodell has meted out suspensions and fines and very harsh warnings to several players he's felt have straddled the line, let alone crossed it.

Regardless, it won't be fun for one of the league's star players to be called to the principal's office.

Part of the message will probably state that Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb and Brett Favre make offseason headlines but not for being investigated or, as was the case three years ago, being involved in a frightening motorcycle wreck. If Roethlisberger wants to be considered among the best quarterbacks in the NFL, he will be reminded that he needs to hold himself to a certain standard 365 days out of the year.

Roethlisberger is a young celebrity with a lot of coin and is hardly the only one to be accused of wrongdoing when none occurred. However, as a lot of people have had to learn, he has to be extra careful in who he deals with, what those people are about, why he wants to deal with them (or vice versa), when he is going about his business, and whether or not it is in the best interest of himself, the Steelers and the NFL.

While Roethlisberger can breathe a little easier, he will still be viewed by segments of the populace with cynicism. It's natural when someone with money gets accused of something and then escapes prosecution. That might not be fair to the police, Georgia Bureau of Investigations and the district attorney's office. By accounts from people I spoke with on all sides, the investigation was very thorough and the evidence simply didn't stack up.

Roethlisberger will have tremendous support as well. Of course, some of it will be aimed at the accuser's credibility and intention, but Big Ben's legion will have his back.

We'll see if that fully will be the case for the Steelers.

The organization surely is glad this situation broke in Roethlisberger's favor and that their quarterback will soon be re-joining the team after voluntarily staying away from offseason workouts. But his teammates aren't overly fond of his supposed dramatics -- remember the late-season criticism by Hines Ward about Roethlisberger not playing in a loss to Baltimore because of a concussion? -- and won't be thrilled about dealing with this latest discussion, even though Roethlisberger has been cleared.

Steelers trade Holmes

After having grown troubled with the off-field issues of Santonio Holmes, the Steelers traded the embattled receiver to the Jets in exchange for a fifth-round draft choice. **More ...**

In the bigger picture, would it be shocking if at some point during the draft Pittsburgh selects a quarterback -- not necessarily with the immediate intent to replace Roethlisberger, but just in case something happens again?

Dennis Dixon is the Steelers' main backup and aging Charlie Batch was also brought back. But a savvy-drafting franchise such as the Steelers always seems to have groomed talent ready to take over, which is why they've been so consistently successful. To boot, the Steelers didn't make the playoffs last season so changes will be made. This is a proud franchise with a demanding fan base, one that expects the best out of the organization and its players.

Roethlisberger is coming off one of his best seasons, throwing for a career-high 4,328 yards and a 100.5 passer rating. He showed in 2009 that he can be a very good passer, which fits with the Steelers' more pass-oriented philosophy under coordinator Bruce Arians. One of his biggest areas of growth was better decision-making on the field.

The Steelers and league officials are hoping to see growth in his decision-making off the field, too.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.