Posted on April 12, 2010 · Posted in Brain Injury

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has suffered numerous concussions on the field and from a serious motorcycle accident, won’t face criminal charges after being accused of sexually assaulting a college student in the bathroom of a bar where he was having his birthday party.

During a press conference Monday Fred Bright, the district attorney in Ocmulgee County in Georgia, said that he had received a letter from Roethlisberger’s accuser, and that she did not want to continue to press charges against the football player.

“The sexual allegation against Mr. Roethlisberger cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” Bright said. “Therefore, there will be no arrest made, nor criminal prosecution of Mr. Roethlisberger for his actions here March 5, 2010.”

But the district attorney outlined the details of what happened the night of the alleged incident in a bar in Milledgeville, Ga., and The New York Time suggests that the tawdry tale could prompt NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to discipline Roethlisberger, who has lead the Steelers to two Super Bowl Championships.

Goodell is slated to meet with Roethlisberger this week, and he could suspend the quarterback for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy, according to The Times.

Steelers President Art Rooney II issued his own statement after Bright’s announcement.

“The investigation process in Georgia has been deliberate and the District Attorney’s decision regarding Ben Roethlisberger speaks for itself,” Rooney said.

“During the past few weeks I have met with Ben on a number of occasions, not only to discuss this incident, but also to discuss his commitment to making sure something like this never happens again,” he wrote. “The Pittsburgh Steelers take the conduct of players and staff very seriously. Ben will now have to work hard to earn back the respect and trust of Steelers fans, and to live up to the leadership responsibilities we all expect of him.”

In conclusion, Rooney said, “In the coming days Ben will meet with Commissioner Goodell to discuss his resolve to abide by the league’s personal conduct standards. After consultation with the Commissioner, our organization will determine the next steps in this process.”

As we wrote in a blog in March, Roethlisberger’s recent problems are perhaps being caused by the accumulation of brain damage from the four concussions he has suffered while playing, and the head injuries he sustained in a near-fatal June 2006 motorcycle accident. Brain injury can result in neuro-behavioral problems, changing one’s usual actions.

In the case where Roethlisberger has escaped prosecution, he and his accuser had met at a bar the night of the alleged incident; were drinking heavily; and were engaging in conversations that were of a sexual nature, Bright said at the press conference.

After the alleged incident, the accuser was taken to a hospital, but it could not be definitively determined if she had been sexually assaulted.

“Here, the overall circumstances do not lead to a viable prosecution,” Bright said. “We are not condoning Mr. Roethlisberger’s actions that night. We do not prosecute morals. We prosecute crimes.”

It would be a good move for Goodell to lay down the law to Roethlisberger, who has exhibited some of the control problems that those afflicted with traumatic brain injury have.

After all, the incident in Georgia is not the only sexual-assault charge that has been levied against the player. A woman has filed suit against Roethlisberger, alleging that he raped her in a Lake Tahoe hotel room in 2008.

Roethlisberger, who shunned wearing a helmet while riding his motorcycle, was almost killed in a 2006 accident when he was thrown in an accident with a car and hit his head.

Goodell should consider requiring Roethlisberger to have a full brain injury assessment as part of any compliance he requires.  He is certainly innocent until proven guilty and it is not either our or Goodell’s role to determine that.  But the issue of abnormal neurobehavior should be ruled out before Roethlisberger exposes himself to any more concussions.


About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447