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Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Steelers Have a Tough Choice to Make on Ben Roethlisberger

First, they peddled Santonio Holmes for acting like a loser and gave him up for the equivalent of a practice-squad linebacker. The fact that the Steelers tossed him aside for a fifth-round draft pick should have told the Jets that they were buying trouble. We'll see if one team's junk is another's joy.

Second, they have the albatross around their neck, also known as Ben Roethlisberger. Sure, they've won two Super Bowls with him, but if the dignified and proud Steelers tossed Holmes away for a prayer for much lesser offenses, what will they do with Roethlisberger? Those in the compliance world say that you know when an executive displays the ultimate in character when he'll take a stand that costs him money, such as firing some key employees because of their transgressions. The Steelers are one of the classiest acts in the National Football League, yet their standard bearer is an embarrassment.

Mention the Steelers, and football fans will say things like, "The Rooney family knows what they're doing," "class acts," "more Super Bowl wins than anyone else," "great franchise," and things like that.

Mention Ben Roethlisberger and the non-verbal cues will be as powerful as the verbal ones. The former will include rolling of the eyes and expressions of disgust. The latter will include such endearing terms as "jerk," "pig," "harasser," and many other terms, some libelous, others unprintable.

Put the two together and you have at best a bad phase, behaviorally, in Steeler history, in the middle a dilution of the brand, and, at worst, a collision between the longstanding values of the franchise and the guy who has led them recently to two Super Bowl titles. It will be interesting to see how the Rooney family views all of this behavior, and whether Roger Goodell comes down on Roethlisberger like Dante Stallworth or Pac-man Jones. At best, Roethlisberger gets a four-game suspension. Somehow, I could see him getting a full season, even though despite his recent escapade he was charged with no crime. Then the players' union will be faced with having to file a grievance for Roethlisberger, so that they don't get Goodell set a precedent for a full-year suspension without a criminal conviction. That's where things could get interesting, but if the Steelers somehow opt for the potential for a title and the money over protecting their brand to its fullest, they shouldn't expect Goodell to do the same. He's all for protecting the strength of the NFL's brand, two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback or not.

That's why I think the Rooneys will act first, so that they can take the lead and show other teams how matters like this should be handled. They wouldn't want to let Goodell front-run them on a matter that's very near and dear to the hearts of head coach Mike Tomlin and the Rooney family. It may be that the players' union and Roethlisberger will file a grievance, but I'd venture to bet it will be as a result of what the Rooneys do, and not Commissioner Goodell.

At the end of the day, I think that the Steelers' brand will trump the monetary interest in Roethlisberger. Many great players have played in Pittsburgh, and all have thought that the name on the front of the jersey has meant more than the name on the back. One who strayed got sent to the Jets for a song. The more prominent one who has done at least three stupid things over the past five years has brought more shame to the franchise.

Expect a suspension.

And/or a trade.

Because the Steeler brand stands tall out there.

I hope that Ben Roethlisberger will relish playing for Oakland, or that he has his long johns ready for those long Buffalo winters.


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