NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's much-anticipated ruling on star player Ben Roethlisberger was stern and expected. Here are ten thoughts about the six-game suspension with potential reduction to four games.
1.This was as comprehensive an investigation and interview process into behavior as the NFL has had. Goodell truly wanted to get this "right". There were multiple phone discussions and written correspondence between the player's camp and Goodell, senior executive Jeff Pash and league security. In the end, the face-to-face between Goodell and Roethlisberger, I am told, was truly impactful.
2.The suspension became a negotiation. Roethlisberger's camp came in with the offer of four games, with upward or downward potential to a minimum of two or maximum of six. The Commissioner and the Rooneys -- the owners of the Steelers -- were discussing an eight-game suspension with possible reduction to six games. In the end there was a compromise. There was no way this suspension was going to be potentially reduced to two games. Not happening.
3.All cases are not created equal. This was clearly a "message" suspension, as all league players, executives and owners were watching. Goodell received input from many sources - his "kitchen cabinet" of trusted advisors, players, and owners including, of course, the Rooneys. The overriding message was to err on the side of strict.
4.Goodell responds most harshly when there is shown a "pattern of behavior". Roethlisberger has appeared -- whether the perception is real or not -- to be out of control in his personal life.
5.The "rolling suspension" model, used in the Michael Vick case this summer, is here to stay. With five months before Roethlisberger could take a snap from center, it allows an opportunity for behavior to be evaluated over a long sample. If he cannot be on his best behavior and stay clean as a whistle during this time period, then he may have a bigger problem than we know.
6.I don't put much stock in the trade talk. Roethlisberger met with Art Rooney II and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and the subject was not broached. Also, the Steelers -- never a team to frivolously spend money -- have paid Roethlisberger over $35 million on the present contract. With six years remaining at non-guaranteed salaries, the contract would hold good value for an acquiring team. But Roethlisberger is radioactive right now. It would take a true "win-at-all-costs" mentality for a team to try selling the acquisition of this toxic player.
7.There does exist the potential for a slippery slope. What happens to the next player who does something inappropriate with a woman at a bar or home? We know that will happen. What if the behavior was an isolated instance but resulted in a sexual assault charge, unlike Roethlisberger? There will be difficult decisions ahead due to this ruling.
8.The suspension is one thing; the overwhelmingly negative public reaction to Roethlisberger is another. From my classes at Wharton business school to my readers to people I encounter, there is disgust for Roethlisberger. The tide turned with the release of the sordid details of the police report. There would probably not be a much different reaction to the suspension were he suspended the entire season. The difficult part to swallow for the Roethlisberger camp is that some of the statements from sober witnesses flatly deny some of the allegations of the accuser and challenge her credibility. That does not excuse inappropriate behavior, but one does wonder if the truth lies somewhere in between.
9.It is no surprise that the discipline here came from Goodell and not the Steelers, who didn't want to be limited to the four-game "conduct detrimental" catchall that could be potentially appealed to an independent arbitrator. This suspension at this time for this player needed to be on a bigger stage than one team's discipline.
10.Roethlisberger not only has his career at stake in complying with the guidelines of the suspension, but he also has 947,000 reasons to do so. At a salary of $8.05 million, he was scheduled to make $473,529 per game, of which four of those checks, a total of $1.9 million, are now history. With good behavior, he can save another two games worth of deleted salary, or $947,000. Again, if Roethlisberger ends up not able to do so, or somehow adds to it, he has a bigger life problem than we know.