Ben Roethlisberger, sinking in popularity in western Pennsylvania and around the NFL, rejoined the Steelers this week and now awaits word on if he will receive any punishment for his off-field escapades.
The quarterback had stayed away from workouts with his teammates until Georgia investigators decided not to prosecute him after a woman claimed he sexually assaulted her. He then met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York the following day, Tuesday, and was back with the Steelers at their training facility Wednesday.
He is expected to take the field with them next week when coach Mike Tomlin holds his first OTA practices. Whether he will be permitted to take the field when the Steelers open the season in September at Heinz Field is still unknown.
Many expect Goodell to suspend him for a game or two -- Bodog.com even has placed the over-under odds on his suspension at 1.5 games. It's unlikely the Steelers can issue any kind of suspension because it probably would not stand scrutiny of the special master on appeal, and the NFLPA would surely appeal it even if Roethlisberger did not.
"I think he understands how important the Personal Conduct Policy is to the NFL," Goodell told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during a visit to Pittsburgh Wednesday. "And I hope he has a better understanding of how important it is for everybody in the league."
Goodell said he will "make a decision in the near future" on Roethlisberger. Goodell is his own appeals judge, so he could make a suspension stand up under his orders even though Roethlisberger has never been charged with a crime. He has been sued in civil court in Nevada by a woman who claimed sexual assault, although she never went to the police. Roethlisberger has counter-sued her.
Either way, Roethlisberger has lost respect and his popularity in Pittsburgh. Only time will determine if he can regain it. He's also lost at least one endorsement.
There will be no more Big Ben's Beef Jerky. PLB Sports, a Pittsburgh maker of sports specialty items, terminated its contract with Roethlisberger the day after Georgia authorities decided not to charge him with sexual assault. The jerky was Roethlisberger's first endorsement as a rookie in 2004.
"We have taken the product off the website, we have stopped production of the product, and have no plans to reinstate," company president Ty Ballou said.
One more thing he lost was Santonio Holmes, his favorite deep target when the Steelers traded the troubled wide receiver to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft choice.
"Dealing with his situation right now, no one really knows the facts on what happened, how it went down, it's all word of mouth that's being spread around," Holmes said of Roethlisberger's Georgia experience. "I'm pretty sure he's got a group of great guys in his corner that's going to have his back. We both talked right after it hit the media, with both our situations, we gave each other great feedback and great encouragement that we're going to stick beside each other no matter what. I think he's going to be OK though."
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