Posted on April 21, 2010 · Posted in Brain Injury

As expected, Pittsburgh Steeler Ben Roethlisberger Wednesday was suspended by the National Football League for six games, with the punishment stemming from the quarterback’s sexual encounter with an intoxicated 20-year-old student in a Georgia bar.

And we’re very happy to see that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seems to be following our advice about Roethlisberger: The NFL is making the quarterback also undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation by medical professionals.

“Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare,” Goodell said in a letter to Roethlisberger.

We hope that evaluation includes brain scans, as Roethlisberger’s many woes come in the wake of the numerous brain injuries he’s sustained in recent years, from a serious motorcycle accident that almost killed him to four concussions on the field. That is the kind of traumatic brain injury that has been shown to change a person’s behavior.

The NFL is trying to give Roethlisberger a second chance, the opportunity, and hopefully the tools, to modify his behavior, which was reprehensible in the incident that prompted his suspension.

“In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people,” Goodell wrote in his letter. “I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track.”

Roethlisberger, 28, was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in the bathroom of a Georgia bar March 5. Prosecutors felt they couldn’t being criminal charges in the case, but they made public many of the details of police reports that outlined the shocking and sordid details of the incident. The quarterback gave the young woman shots of liquor, followed her into a bathroom, and had sex with her even as she objected. Roethlisberger’s bodyguards stopped the woman’s friends from rescuing her.

This athlete, who lead his team to two Super Bowls wins, has not  exactly turned out to be a role model for America’s youth, or America’s men, for that matter.

As The New York Times pointed out, Roethlisberger now has the dubious distinction of being the first NFL player to be suspended for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy – without having been charged with a crime.

The NFL issued a statement Wednesday on Roethlisberger’s suspension without pay “for conduct detrimental to the NFL in violation of the league’s personal conduct policy.”

According to the NFL’s announcement, after consultation with Goodell, Steelers President Art Rooney and the commissioner phoned Roethlisberger 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 off-season 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, according to Goodell.

“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 case 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.

These are some additional 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,” Goodell said in his letter to Roethlisberger. “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.”

Added Goodell, “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.”

Let’s hope that the most comprehensive, and state-of-the-art, TBI brain scanning and are other evaluation tools are used to examine, and help, Roethlisbeger.


About the Author

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