Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whose sordid off-field encounters with women have embarrassed his team, its fans and the National Football League, yesterday found out that something not adjudged a crime can still carry a punishment that will get his attention.
After reading the lurid details compiled in a Georgia police investigation of a 20-year-old college student's accusation of rape, which was morally damning but not pursued for want of definitive legal evidence, many Steelers fans have exhausted their patience with their former hero, even to the extent of wanting him traded to another team.
That's an understandable reaction. Nevertheless, the punishment announced yesterday by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will hit Mr. Roethlisberger where it hurts (and, unfortunately, the Steelers, too).
It's not just the games he will miss -- a maximum of six, to be reduced to four if he shows progress in counseling or treatment designed to make him more accountable and inclined to better decisions off the field.
A four-game suspension would cost him at least $1.8 million of his 2010 salary. If he misses six games, he would lose seven weeks of salary, or $3.3 million, because the suspension would take place over a bye week. That's a hefty tab for a visit to a Georgia nightclub, but not unfair. Mr. Goodell was at pains to point out that plying underage drinkers with alcohol put at risk the students and the quarterback and that the player conduct policy allowed a punishment even in the absence of a criminal conviction.
There's an argument that the athlete is getting off lightly, but in light of the fact that he was not in the end charged with a crime, the punishment did fit the reckless affront.
The penalty came swiftly. It hurt his pocketbook. It put him, humiliatingly, in the position of a little boy who must show that he will be good if he wants to go to the playground again. It put Ben Roethlisberger on notice that no more nonsense will be tolerated.