Commissioner Roger Goodell notified Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger Wednesday that he must undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation by medical professionals and will be suspended without pay for the first six games of the regular season for conduct detrimental to the NFL in violation of the league's personal conduct policy.
After consultation with Goodell, Steelers President Art Rooney and the commissioner informed Roethlisberger by telephone Wednesday of the two-step approach that is designed to hold Roethlisberger accountable for his conduct and provide him an opportunity to change his behavior and establish himself as a responsible individual.
In a letter to Roethlisberger, Goodell said that Roethlisberger must adhere to any counseling or treatment that is recommended by the professional evaluators to help him make better decisions and avoid situations that can cause legal or other problems. A professional behavioral evaluation is mandatory for anyone that has violated the personal-conduct policy. Roethlisberger may not attend any team offseason activity after today until he has completed the evaluation and the evaluating professionals confirm with the commissioner that Roethlisberger may resume football activities. If so cleared, Roethlisberger will be able to participate in training camp and preseason games this summer.
The commissioner said he would review Roethlisberger's progress under the plan prior to the start of the regular season and consider whether to reduce the suspension to four games. Failure to cooperate and follow the plan could result in a longer suspension, Goodell added.
"The personal conduct policy makes clear that I may impose discipline 'even where the conduct does not result in conviction of a crime' as, for example, where the conduct 'imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person'," Goodell stated in his letter to Roethlisberger. "As the District Attorney concluded, the extensive investigatory record shows that you contributed to the irresponsible consumption of alcohol by purchasing (or facilitating the purchase of) alcoholic beverages for underage college students, at least some of whom were likely already intoxicated. There is no question that the excessive consumption of alcohol that evening put the students and yourself at risk. The personal-conduct policy also states that discipline is appropriate for conduct that 'undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players.' By any measure, your conduct satisfies that standard."
Goodell said his review of the matter included the extensive volume of material released by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Milledgeville Police Department; public comments by and a private conversation with Georgia District Attorney Fred Bright; comments and recommendations of Roethlisberger's representatives; a personal interview with Roethlisberger on April 13; dialogue with current players, former players, the NFL Players Association, and others; and information learned by the NFL office in the course of examining the Milledgeville matter.
Other excerpts from Goodell's letter:
"I recognize that the allegations in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you. My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans."
"Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare."
"I believe it is essential that you take full advantage of the resources available to you. My ultimate disposition in this matter will be influenced by the extent to which you do so, what you learn as a result, and a demonstrated commitment to making positive change in your life."
"In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people. I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track."
In addition to the discipline imposed on Roethlisberger, league policy requires that NFL teams remit to the league a portion of a suspended player's salary starting with the second suspension in a year for violations of the personal conduct or drug policies. The second such suspension in a year results in the club being assessed 25 percent of the suspended player's forfeited salary to a maximum of $200,000. Prior to the Steelers trading him to the New York Jets, wide receiver Santonio Holmes was suspended for four games for violating the substance abuse program.