Skip Navigation

2010 Spring Issue 3 (April 23, 2010)

Point-Counterpoint: Should athletes be held to a higher standard than the law?

April 23, 2010
By David Sacks and Justin Rotman

Roethlisberger should pay the consequences for his actions -By David Sacks

Ben Roethlisberger not only makes headlines on the field, but also off the field.  When he plays football, Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the game, the face of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a former rookie of the year, the youngest Super Bowl–winning quarterback in NFL history, and two-time Super Bowl champion.  Off the field, however, Roethlisberger is known for his questionable judgment.  In 2006, he was involved in an almost deadly motorcycle accident where he was not wearing a helmet and crashed.  In 2008, he was accused of sexual assault in Lake Tahoe, and just last month he found himself faced with a similar charge following an incident at a bar in Milledgeville, Georgia. 

Throughout his career, Roethlisberger has been accused of behaving in a way that suggests he thinks of himself as above the law, and invincible.  The common strain running through all of these incidents is that Roethlisberger does not care that he is the face of a storied franchise and one of the most recognizable faces in the NFL.  He does not seem to understand that due to his stature he is held to a higher standard.  And while the Milledgeville district attorney did not have enough evidence to prosecute Roethlisberger, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell read and saw enough to suspend him. 
The district attorney, in his press conference, presented evidence that painted the quarterback in a terrible light and said that if he could prosecute morals, he would charge Roethlisberger.  But the district attorney realized that there was not enough evidence to present to a court, and one would assume that the victim did not want any part of the spotlight and scrutiny that would follow her if the case were to proceed.  Goodell, though, due to the wording of the NFL’s personal conduct policy, can suspend Roethlisberger without charges being filed, and he is sending a powerful message by doing so. 

If missing six games of a 16-game season, losing 2.8 million dollars, and hearing that your team is trying to trade you even though you have won two Super Bowls in the last four years fails to send the message, then nothing will.  More importantly, this suspension should remind every other player in the NFL that they are held to a high standard of conduct, sometimes higher than the law. 

For Roethlisberger, a series of terrible decisions in the span of a few hours at a Georgia bar placed his career, team and the whole league in a compromising position.  Goodell could not let this slip.  He had to send a message that other players would understand: acting recklessly and ignoring your position as a role model and public figure will not be tolerated. 

Goodell could not have put it better when he wrote in his letter to Roethlisberger, “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.” Roethlisberger is in the midst of a $102 million contract, and when someone is paid that type of money it is to do more than throw a football.  It is to be a leader in the community, role model to kids, the face of a team and bring fans to the games. Hopefully as a result of this suspension Ben Roethlisberger will finally understand this.

-David Sacks is a Carletonian columnist

 

Roethlisberger did not deserve suspension -By Justin Rotman

This past Wednesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended two-time Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first six games of the 2010-11 NFL season. Roethlisberger has been accused of sexually assaulting a twenty-year-old college student at a Georgia nightclub in March. Since Goodell became commissioner in 2006, Roethlisberger is the sixteenth player to be suspended due to “personal conduct,” yet interestingly is the first person to be suspended without being arrested or charged. Roethlisberger’s six game suspension is longer than usual, something that catches the eye considering every other player was arrested or at least charged for their actions.

While acknowledging that Roethlisberger was not charged or arrested for the incident, Goodell has suspended Roethlisberger under the Personal Conduct Policy and has ordered him to undergo behavioral evaluation. Before making his decision, Goodell interviewed Roethlisberger, talked to current and former players as well as the players’ union, reviewed information from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and city police, and talked with the Georgia district attorney. In defending his decision to suspend Roethlisberger without arrest or charges, Goodell said that the Personal Conduct Policy allows him to “impose discipline ‘even where the conduct does not result in conviction of a crime’…where the conduct ‘imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person.’ “  The Personal Conduct Policy was created by Goodell in 2007.

What is interesting and perhaps not fair to me is that Roethlisberger was suspended, again, without being charged or even arrested. Goodell did the right thing in letting the incident run its legal course, but after the state said they did not find enough evidence to charge Roethlisberger of a crime, Goodell suspended him anyway. Overall, I believe Goodell has done good things for the NFL in his handling of legal issues, as he is known for being much tougher than his predecessor Paul Tagliabue.  When Goodell reaches beyond the law, which found Roethlisberger not guilty of anything,things start to get rather shady.

This is not Roethlisberger’s first brush with the law. In 2006, he almost died when he crashed riding his motorcycle without a helmet, and he is currently being sued for a sexual assault incident in Lake Tahoe in 2008, of which Roethlisberger again has not been found guilty. Without saying so, Goodell has based his suspensions on Roethlisberger’s past actions, noting that the quarterback needs to “turn his life around.” While I agree that Roethlisberger has a ways to go in repairing his image and becoming a role model again, Goodell is reaching too far. He should not take past instances into account, especially when one harmed nobody but himself. Just this week, Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Eric Foster has been accused of sexual assault, yet Colts president Bill Polian says Foster will not face discipline from the team because charges won’t be filed.

In a similar case in 2003, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was arrested and charged with sexual assault of a woman at a Colorado hotel, yet instead of facing suspension from his team or the NBA, Bryant was provided a private jet by the Lakers so he could fly from Los Angeles to Colorado to attend court sessions and miss as little basketball as possible. While arguing that Goodell went too far in suspending Roethlisberger for nearly half the season, I believe the NBA was far too lenient with Bryant, who was actually charged with this terrible crime.  In these instances, both leagues missed. The NFL went too far, while the NBA fell drastically short. Professional leagues need to respect the law and realize that the system is there for a reason. If the law finds enough evidence to charge or convict a player, then by all means should they should be suspended. However, when there is not enough evidence to even charge or arrest a player, professional sports leagues should revert to the principle on which our legal system operates: innocent until proven guilty.

-Justin Rotman is a Carletonian columnist

Add a comment

Please login to comment.