'Big bad Ben' is banned
Brendan Connor on Steelers star's season-altering ban over sexual misconduct claims.
Last Modified: 23 Apr 2010 11:16 GMT
Roethlisberger will miss one-third of the NFL season [File: GALLO/GETTY]

He needed a wake-up call and a kick in the pants. And he got both from the head man in American football.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and two–time Super Bowl winner, Ben Roethlisberger, was slapped with a six–game suspension by the NFL this week for not complying with the league's "personal conduct policy".

It stems from a second incident in two years involving allegations of sexual misconduct by the 28-year-old Roethlisberger.

"Roethlisberger is a great player, and a great leader on the field, but the guy is a mess away from the game"

Brendan Connor

Given the reports of his antics, everyone knew this suspension was coming, but nobody knew how severe it would be. Six games is a lot.

It's one-third of the NFL season, and the Steelers, who won the Super Bowl in 2009, are pretty much lost without "Big Ben" at the helm. That was clear last season, when he was injured and they missed the playoffs entirely.

But this move was necessary.

Roethlisberger is a great player, and a great leader on the field, but the guy is a mess away from the game. He repeatedly shows bad judgement, puts himself in places and predicaments he shouldn't, and frankly needs to stop being a "frat boy" and grow up.

Assault claims

Accordingly, the NFL's commissioner, Roger Goodell, handed down the six-game punishment even though prosecutors in the state of Georgia last week decided not to charge Roethlisberger in a case involving a 20-year-old college student who accused him of sexually assaulting her in the bathroom of a local bar. 

As part of the suspension, Roethlisberger also must undergo a comprehensive behavioural evaluation, and there's a chance he could have his six-game ban reduced to four games if he shows proper contrition and behaves well in the view of evaluators and of Goodell.

The Steelers face a struggle without their star quarterback [GALLO/GETTY]

This is a bit of an odd case because Roethlisberger is the first player ever to be suspended under the NFL's "conduct policy" who was not arrested nor charged with a crime.

However, there are suggestions of an ongoing behavioural issue.

He was also accused of sexual impropriety by a woman in Lake Tahoe, Nevada two years ago, but she later dropped her complaint.

Roethlisberger's actions have angered the team ownership and the fans in Pittsburgh, and he has lost sponsors because of the scandal.

There is also now some suggestion that the Steelers are willing to listen to offers to trade Roethlisberger away from Pittsburgh if another team is interested and if the offer is right.

He will also lose money. A lot of it. His salary $471,000 a game, so if he does have to miss six games, then "Big Ben" will be out some $2.8 million.

Brand and image

The consensus on radio call-in shows and among columnists seems to be: "Just throw touchdowns Ben, stop trying to throw away your career. If we want trashy stories, we'll look in the tabloids or watch the TV reality shows."

As the most popular and successful of American sports, the NFL is very protective of its brand and image, and since Goodell began running things, he has been quick to banish or dispatch transgressors who run afoul of the law, or generally misbehave.

To date, none of the players who have had to be punished has been as famous or high-profile as Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers, but his sentence is a cautionary tale for others in American football who contemplate bad behavior.

Maybe they should just play, and perform their magic on the field and then try to carry themselves with dignity off the field, because it's clear with Roethlisberger's suspension that no player is bigger than the game, and all will feel the wrath of the commissioner if they stray and if they embarrass the mighty NFL.

Brendan Connor is a former Al Jazeera sports correspondent with an encyclopaedic knowledge of sport on the American continent.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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