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Friday, September 3, 2010

Off To See The Wizard

When a man’s been given suspension
For creating a lot of tension
With help on the media’s part.
And whether he committed a crime
He still has to do his time
So, Ben won’t get to start.

Please hold your applause.  

Ben Roethlisberger, love him or hate him, is the backbone of the Steelers offense. Yet he won’t play for what will probably be a month after all is said and done. When the QB went down to Georgia and caused a ruckus in a bar bathroom resulting in a alleged sexual assault of a woman under the age of 21 he brought down the full fury of Roger Goodell on him. The result was a maximum six game suspension for violating the league’s conduct policy. Now, Ben and a few of his friends are off to see the wizard named Goodell to see about asking for a reduction of that suspension. It was possible that it could have been reduced to four games which is widely been reported due to Ben’s turnaround in character. He is going to ask the wizard for a further reduction to possibly three games. A: Do you think he deserves the full six games? B: Do you think he deserves less? C: Do you care? D: Is Goodell off his rocker to start?

Regardless of whether or not Ben did anything wrong, no charges were filed and in the courts that results in no crime being committed. If he did do anything wrong he’s certainly been given enough time to reflect on his choices as a young superstar quarterback with two Super Bowl rings and a multimillion dollar contract to his name. This should be a wakeup call and it might have been the one he needed. It certainly wasn’t the motorcycle crash that took place the summer after Super Bowl win number one and it wasn’t the allegations of sexual assault charges that came crashing down on him after Super Bowl win number two, although the alleged incident occurred in the previous year. I’m actually afraid of what might happen if Pittsburgh wins another Super Bowl. He might die in some weird motorcycle accident after crashing into a bar bathroom while trying to have sex on his bike.

Notwithstanding the lack of charges, the punishment handed down from the NFL commissioner may fit the supposed crime. What Ben DID do was fail to represent the caliber of an individual who is privileged enough to be in his shoes. A role model to young children and athletes, he tarnished his choir boy image of a family and religion oriented hero and sullied the already disintegrating image of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Over the years, the Steelers have been a number of things. They’ve been winners, losers and average Joes in their 75 plus years in the league. Throughout it all, many have perceived the image of the Steelers as a blue collar working man’s team. One that is more appropriately described as America’s team than the Cowboys are. They have always appeared to rise above the general BS that has made the National Football League appear more like a prison league than professional one in recent years.

But that was the past. Recent seasons have been plagued by kickers trying to take a swing at police officers, a former wide receiver tweeting remarks about a woman he allegedly assaulted and being arrested for possession of drugs, and various other accusations of assault, both domestic and sexual. None of these were more high profile than Ben’s off the field conduct which landed him no formal charges but a suspension for the beginning of the season.

Now, with the preseason over, the job for starting quarterback in Pittsburgh has come into question. We had Dennis Dixon, Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch all trading snaps during preseason. With Ben out for four or six games the Steelers need a strong leader in there to ensure that when Ben gets handed the keys he can keep the momentum going for the rest of the season. The forgone conclusion was that Leftwich would be starter in Week One, but last night’s final preseason game left us with only two quarterbacks. Leftwich sustained a knee injury that could put him on the bench for most of Ben’s suspension. Dixon, who is a good scrambler, failed to show real promise after a dismal preseason loss against Denver. He either doesn’t know the playbook or is relying too heavily on his feet instead of his arm. Charlie Batch is a dependable quarterback, when he’s healthy. The 13 year veteran has been out with a lot of injuries during his career. He’s also 35 and been passed over in training camp. One wonders if he was simply not a choice for the temporary starting position or if the coaching staff knew they could rely on Batch and wanted to keep him healthy, just in case. That “Just In Case” scenario has presented itself with Leftwich’s injury. What to do for Sunday?

But this whole drama was predicated by Ben Roethlisberger’s conduct off the field and he has the burden of knowing that the Steelers are lost without him and ultimately in this mess because of him. It’s nice to be needed but horrible to be the reason for the need. Right or wrong, Ben screwed up, but his actions are only slightly more reprehensible than those of the man who deemed him a shame to the conduct policy. Roger Goodell has completely overstepped the sanity line by handing down such a punishment. Should Ben have been punished even though no “crime” was “committed?” Absolutely. He should have had this wakeup call but Goodell isn’t being consistent in his doling out of punishment. He is about as consistent and reasonable at handing out punishments as the MPAA is at handing out ratings for films.

Vince Young and Shaun Rogers are prime examples. In both of these cases, there was a clear and present violation of those much revered “conduct policies” that Goodell delivered from the Mount. If anything, they were cut and dry violations of the law. Rogers carried a loaded gun into an airport and attempted to get on a plane. He gets a fine of around $400,000. Gee, that hurt. Young was caught on tape in a fight at a strip club. He was given no punishment, whatsoever. Boy, Roger, can you explain why Roethlisberger was given a six game suspension over allegedly assaulting a woman in a bar bathroom? Forget that he might have done it. Forget all the personal problems Ben has going on, take Goodells punishment as it pertains to the actual crime or lack thereof. Had Ben been charged and convicted, he should have been gone. End of story. The fact police did not find enough evidence to charge him gives him reasonable doubt and the possibility of a “he said / she said” scenario. In that case, give him a fine and a one game suspension. But to punish an entire team over a lack credible evidence and hearsay is ridiculous when you have another quarterback caught on tape in a brawl and defensive lineman arrested for carrying a gun into an airport. That’s a felony! What, because he later assisted in the arrest of a drunk driver, he should be commended?

So, today, Ben is meeting with Goodell to discuss the suspension and ask for leniency. What he should ask is why Vince Young and Shaun Rogers are suiting up on Sunday and he’s going to be watching the Steelers struggle against Atlanta. Perhaps if Roethlisberger had dressed up in a mask and cape and nabbed some bad guys around town, Goodell would be impressed. Whether or not he is sincere in his actions, Roethlisberger has shown that he is taking this seriously and has been a good boy. Perhaps if he brought Roger the Wicked Witch of the West’s broom to the meeting, it would help.

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