MIAMI - JANUARY 03: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during a NFL game against the Miami Dolphins at Land Shark Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Miami, Florida. (Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images)
As the NFL prepares to roll out its first-ever prime time draft Thursday night, the stubborn glare of the spotlight is instead on a matter pro football would like to move past: Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's six-game suspension.
Commissioner Roger Goodell's sidelining of the two-time Super Bowl winner for his role in an alleged sexual assault was hotly debated by sports commentators who wondered if the punishment was too harsh -- or didn't go far enough. While Roethlisberger's defenders point out that he was not charged, Goodell has put a premium on cleaning up the league's image.
Is Roethlisberger's suspension fair when he was never charged with a crime?
USA Today's Christine Brennan applauded Goodell's decision, saying it sends an "unequivocal message" to Roethlisberger and other players "intent on emulating his disgusting, immature and offensive behavior." "Goodell's action also acknowledges that no matter how the case was handled by the police and other authorities in Georgia, the strong arm of a serious sports commissioner can right some wrongs and mete out very significant, old school-style punishment," she wrote.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution's Jeff Schultz argues that Goodell had no choice but to come down with a harsh punishment to protect his credibility as a the man who "lives to protect the [NFL] shield." The suspension also chokes a potential explosive conversation about race. "To not suspend Roethlisberger would’ve furthered a race debate among some fans and some of the league’s African American players who believe Goodell is harder on blacks than whites," Schultz writes. "By suspending the two-time, Super-Bowl-winning white quarterback from arguably the league’s premier franchise, that argument is over."
While Goodell's decision was met with much approval by sports writers, Jets linebacker Calvin Pace ripped the commissioner's action. “How do you suspend somebody who didn’t get convicted in court? I don’t get it. How can you do it? Because Roger Goodell’s like a judge,” he told the NY Post. "That’s a lot of games, especially for a franchise quarterback...It’s a situation where you’re dealing with somebody’s word against your word."
ESPN's resident legal expert, lawyer Lester Munson, answered Pace's question. "The league's personal conduct policy gives Goodell the power to impose discipline even without any violation of the law," he wrote. "However, Goodell did rely on his review of an enormous and detailed investigation and concluded that Roethlisberger's conduct was 'detrimental to the league' and was a 'danger to the safety and well being of another person.'"
Yahoo Sports' blogger, Matthew J. Darnell, said he is not "disappointed or upset that [Roethlisberger will] be sitting out six (or four, or eight) games of the NFL season" but was concerned with "Goodell's limitless power to punish." Noting that the quarterback was never charged with a crime, Darnell points out that it is the first time the NFL suspends a player who was not charged with a crime or failed a drug test. "Doesn't this decision open up the possibility of a major suspension being handed out someday on the grounds of a false accusation? Or for some other thing that someone didn't really do, but still generated negative headlines for the NFL?" he wrote.