We all hear the alarm -- that steady, high-pitched, right-through-the-center-of-your-skull wail that you just hope isn't a true emergency but simply can't ignore.
And that's your first instinct with this Ben Roethlisberger story: to keep your fingers crossed that it won't amount to anything more than a whole lot of noise.
I remember being at that place when Michael Vick's name first came up in connection with a dogfighting ring. I ended up where so many others did soon thereafter, with a feeling of overwhelming dread and disgust and the opinion that I would never want the guy as my quarterback … or to have any other role on my team.
For now, the sexual-assault allegations that a 20-year-old woman in Georgia made against Roethlisberger only form the basis of an alarm, but this alarm is loud and piercing, and you don't have the sense that it will go silent any time soon.
You keep reminding yourself to wait for justice to take its course. Let's get more information, or at least as much as becomes available for public consumption. Let's see if any charges will be filed before jumping to conclusions.
But there's so much that can't be ignored, beginning with the fact that this isn't the first time Roethlisberger has been down this road with such accusations.
The fact that police in Georgia want to talk with him and other witnesses to the alleged incident in the next two to three days indicate this is something that, at the very least, has potential to grow longer legs.
Then there's that first sentence of a three-sentence statement, released Monday by Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II: "All of us in the Steelers family are concerned about the recent incident involving Ben Roethlisberger in Georgia." The rest of what he said was pretty standard under such circumstances: "We cannot comment on any of the specifics until law enforcement's investigation is concluded. Certainly, we will continue to closely monitor the situation."
Saying the Steelers family is concerned is saying plenty. There can be no denying that the alleged incident takes on a higher degree of meaning for the team and the NFL in the wake of another alleged incident involving Roethlisberger and a former female employee of a Lake Tahoe hotel and casino during his appearance at a golf tournament in 2008.
At the very least, Roethlisberger is guilty of poor judgment.
For whatever reason, Big Ben insists on staying on a collision course with his franchise's long history of doing things the right way and with a commissioner who has a well-established low tolerance for bad behavior. Go back to his infamous motorcycle wreck. He thought so little of protecting the body that allows him to earn millions of dollars and rank among the very best at his position that he declined to wear a helmet.
Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he didn't think.
Bar-hopping with friends in a college town isn't a crime. Nor is being out at 2 a.m. Nor is being a single, 28-year-old male allegedly in a club where much younger college students are typically found partying on a Thursday night.
But when you're Ben Roethlisberger, mega-star professional athlete/celebrity, you'd be wise to feel compelled to exercise greater caution than everyone else around you, unless your particular group happens to include any other mega-star professional athletes/celebrities. If you have to be in a club at that hour, you should be very aware of your surroundings and for the potential for something to happen that, at a minimum, could lead to considerable embarrassment.
It doesn't sound fair, but that's the way it is. That's the way it will always be. And when your name is connected to a certain civil case in Nevada, your guard needs to be extra high. Your instincts need to be extra sharp. No, you cannot possibly be like everyone else, just looking to have a good time. Your good fun -- in whatever way that's defined for a single man with a highly recognizable name and face -- must be accompanied by a heavy dose of good judgment.
For now, an alarm is sounding and it can't be ignored.