Dear Art Rooney: Please Suspend Ben Roethlisberger

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Friday, April 16, 2010
By Tom Van Wyhe
Steelers Fever Columnist

The Steelers must take swift action and suspend Ben Roethlisberger before the NFL does.

Ben RoethlisbergerIt doesn't necessarily matter whether one believes he deserves suspension anymore. Michael Vick was suspended before he was indicted; Santonio Holmes was recently traded for a fifth-round draft pick after allegations he struck a woman; and Pacman Jones was suspended for a bevy of accusations but no convictions.

Pittsburgh is dealing with precedent, and this was the fear when Jones was originally suspended.

"I'm highly concerned for our franchise," said Tomlin recently, "and for Ben personally."

The league or franchise must take action, and the NFL will if the Steelers don't act first. Why? Precedent and fear of non-action.

Jones, Holmes, and Vick are all black. I don't want to play the race card, but someone will. It is absolutely inevitable if the team or league doesn't make a strong statement, and it's a valid point.

At the end of the day, the NFL may have come down too hard on those players, but now it must come down just as hard on Roethlisberger.

Forget the full season suspension; that's too much. But what about four or eight games? Yes, it will hurt the team in the short run; Pittsburgh will not be as competitive for obvious reasons, but the team's integrity is at stake.

Suspension is growing in popularity, too. Last week on The Herd, Colin Cowherd's daily radio program, Amani Toomer suggested "at least eight games."

Consider the media backlash if Pittsburgh doesn't suspend Roethlisberger after trading Santonio Holmes. Holmes is coming off the best statistical season of his career; he had 79 receptions, 1,248 yards, and five touchdowns last season. Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall has had some off-field problems and a pair of direct conflicts with his head coach, Josh McDaniels. His numbers last year were somewhat similar to Holmes': he had 22 more receptions (basically from one record-setting game), 128 fewer yards, and five more touchdowns.

But Denver isn't giving him up for less than a first-round draft pick, or a massive package deal. McDaniels suspended him twice in less than a 20 week time frame, but the Broncos aren't trading him for less than his value.

I don't want to equate Holmes to Marshall or suggest their values are similar; after all, Marshall has had three consecutive 100-reception seasons. But to argue Marshall is worth a first-round pick and Holmes is only worth a fifth is ludicrous. If the Steelers weren't so anxious to get rid of Holmes and make a statement, the team could have potentially gotten much more value from him.

We aren't dealing with that hypothetical, though. Pittsburgh sent Holmes packing to make a statement, even at the detriment of the receiving corps and offense. If the team doesn't handle Roethlisberger in-house, it will appear to be a double standard. It doesn't matter if there is a double standard in play: perception counts. Letting off Roethlisberger raises more issues than it solves. Pittsburgh doesn't want to be the team with the most player troubles; Cincinnati has already carved out that niche.

I'm not so naive as to suggest a suspension will fix everything. There have been player troubles in the past and there will be more issues in the future; however, the team must take action to stave the infection at its root before it spreads even more.

There has been a growing trend among fans and support for "Big Ben" is waning -- especially after the district attorney handling the most recent sexual assault case narrated what allegedly happened that night while telling the media he didn't have enough evidence to make a conviction. It was a disturbing story, and its point was clear: something happened that night in a club's bathroom.

The alleged victim's story may be true, or it may not be. But fans are growing wary of Roethlisberger.

Said one fan in an article published in USA Today, "It's just frustrating to see a guy that's got a lot going for him and finds himself in another one of these situations. But you just think why? How can this happen again?"

It shouldn't, and that's why the franchise must suspend Ben Roethlisberger. Pre-empt the league and exclaim to the fans that this type of behavior will not go without consequences. Suspend him on charges of irresponsibility and tarnishing the team's image; make the face of the franchise an example.

Set precedent.