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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

NFL: Goodell needs to make right call: Suspend Roethlisberger

By Stephen A. Smith
The Philadelphia Inquirer

He's known as the czar of the National Football League. A paragon of virtue, purportedly more committed to image than the bottom line, is Roger Goodell. But as draft day looms and the eyes of the world set upon Radio City Music Hall, the commissioner of America's most popular sport should finally deal with Ben Roethlisberger.

Goodell needs to announce that the NFL is suspending the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback. A four-game suspension sounds about right. He needs to make it clear that it's not because of any criminal act, that it's primarily because of juvenile behavior and a violation of the league's code of personal conduct. And he needs to do so immediately, without compunction, and without any input from Roethlisberger's employer, preferably before the NFL draft on Thursday night, specifically to avoid the appearance of any preferential treatment.

Goodell can banter all he wants about dotting I's and crossing T's, about how he needs time to review everything.

"Obviously there are disputes about the facts that occurred that night," Goodell said on the Dan Patrick radio show Monday, "but (this behavior) is something that we take very seriously, and our players should not put themselves in those positions."

Obviously, he's right. But, before Goodell thinks about becoming a modern-day Perry Mason, he needs to remember that a preponderance of circumstantial evidence worked on television because it works in life, too. And there's enough evidence for Goodell to lay down his own law.

Ben Roethlisberger may not have sexually assaulted a 20-year-old student from a Georgia college. But once we sift through the clues and connect the dots, the one thing that can be said is that Roethlisberger can be called anything but innocent.

Innocence doesn't come attached to someone 28 years old, hanging out in college bars, getting inebriated. Innocence doesn't come associated with members of the opposite sex ending up in a small bathroom with a pro athlete while hired security physically keep others at bay, as police transcripts printed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette say.

There's no assertion of innocence when surveillance tapes that could be used for evidence are "accidentally" taped over and subsequently erased. Or when the scene in question the sink, floor, and toilet is scrubbed down with Pine-Sol eight hours after the alleged incident because no one told the janitor it was, indeed, a crime scene. Or when the police themselves make a concerted effort to dissuade the alleged victim from filing charges before waiting four hours after the bathroom was cleaned to call in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

None of it sounds innocent. It isn't necessarily guilt, but it stinks to the high heavens. It leaves a stench on the NFL brand.

And that, alone, according to commissioner Goodell, is all he's ever needed to exact disciplinary action especially since it's the second accusation of sexual assault levied against Roethlisberger in an eight-month span.

"The issue here is with respect to a pattern of behavior and bad judgments," Goodell continued on Patrick's show. "You do not have to be convicted, or even charged with a crime, to be able to demonstrate that you've violated a personal conduct policy, reflect poorly not only on themselves, but all of their teammates, every NFL player, and everyone associated with the NFL. I have expressed that directly with (Roethlisberger)."

Good! So what's the delay all about?

Goodell has discussed impugning the integrity of the league and all its personnel. He's indicated the mere appearance of inappropriate behavior warrants discipline, and the Steelers have openly admitted the sole reason they haven't exacted punishment upon their star quarterback is because of legal retaliation on the part of the league's players association.

Goodell doesn't have that problem, so what's the issue?

Goodell says it isn't preferential treatment, but ignores the fact that it looks preferential. He says it's not because Roethlisberger is a white superstar knowing there's a segment of the populace who'll think just that, the more he drags his feet.

Personally, I believe Goodell when he says he wants to gather more evidence, that he's not playing favorites. I also believe race plays no role in this matter.

But perception is reality, no matter what anyone believes. Especially if Goodell keeps talking about "perception" more loudly than anyone cares to hear.