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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 22, 2010

Higher standards expected of players

By Ferd Lewis

It turns out there were some expectations that came with that eight-year, $102 million contract quarterback Ben Roethlisberger signed a while back.

It seems there are some responsibilities attached to wearing the No. 7 Pittsburgh jersey and accountability demanded of those who are poster players for Steeler Nation and the NFL.

Beyond being able to read defenses and throw touchdown passes, that is.

When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came down on Roethlisberger yesterday, ordering a six-game suspension and "comprehensive behavioral counseling," it was a spanking that reverberated around pro football.

The bell tolled not just for Big Ben but for miscreants around the league who assumed free passes for their behavior because of who they are and what they can do on the field. It said that entitlement has its limits even for Super Bowl winners and in a business with rich rewards come some necessary standards.

Alleged sex in a public restroom with an intoxicated woman being well short of the behavior the NFL expects from its players.

If the 15 other suspensions issued by Goodell since taking office in 2006 didn't drive home the point of accountability, then what happened to Roethlisberger yesterday was the loudest statement yet about the NFL's stringent personal conduct policy.

One that says that sanctions may be meted out for conduct that "undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the N.F.L., N.F.L. clubs or N.F.L. players." Further it notes, "It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. Instead, as an employee of the N.F.L. or a member club, you are held to a higher standard and expected to conduct yourself in a way that is responsible, promotes the values upon which the league is based, and is lawful."

The fact that Georgia authorities did not proceed with prosecution, Goodell said, hardly exonerated Roethlisberger for what appears to be a pattern of bad behavior and poor decision making. "There is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville (Ga.) that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans," Goodell was quoted in a letter.

It is repulsive enough if Joe the taxidermist goes on a binge that brings an allegation of rape, even if no charges are pressed by the authorities. But when the face of a storied franchise in the nation's leading sporting enterprise is portrayed in the kind of tawdry terms contained in page after page of Georgia police reports, it besmirches far more than the reputation of an individual.

For Goodell not to have acted forcefully would have been to compound that stain.