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Ben scrambles, might not escape penalty

| Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday and later told ESPN that their talk was "very productive."

An NFL spokesman did not give an indication whether the league will suspend Roethlisberger, who has been accused of sexual assault twice since July, for violating its personal conduct policy.

"Our office will review all the facts and follow up at the appropriate time with the Steelers and Ben," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement.

The league could punish Roethlisberger for tarnishing its image even though he won't be charged after an accusation by a 20-year-old college student that he sexually assaulted her March 5 in Milledgeville, Ga.

The Steelers could discipline Roethlisberger, whom they made the richest player in franchise history two years ago when they signed him to an eight-year, $102 million contract.

The Steelers did not comment on Roethlisberger's meeting with Goodell. Ryan Tollner, Roethlisberger's agent, could not be reached for comment.

Tollner and David Cornwell, who is representing Roethlisberger in a civil lawsuit that alleges he sexually assaulted a hotel worker in Reno, accompanied him to New York.

Roethlisberger arrived at NFL headquarters wearing a suit and sporting a buzz cut.

It was a significant change in appearance from Monday night, when Roethlisberger read a statement at Steelers headquarters. Wearing a golf shirt and slacks, Roethlisberger addressed about 50 media members in the locker room with his hair cropped on the sides but slicked back on top and long in the back.

In the statement, Roethlisberger apologized to his family and the Steelers and promised to clean up his act and be a "role model to kids."

He did not answer questions and was not accompanied by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin or front-office personnel. It was his first public comments after the night of barhopping in Milledgeville.

A crisis management expert in Washington said Roethlisberger conveyed the right message but said it is only a small step in rehabilitating the embattled quarterback's image.

"Ben's going to have, just like Tiger Woods, just like Michael Vick, a long road ahead of him where small successes, small measures that he does in the community, that he does with his own behavior are going to over time change perception," said Jason Maloni, vice president of Levick Strategic Communication's Crises and Litigation team. "It's not going to happen overnight, it's not going to happen with a 75-second statement."

There has been a backlash from fans since a Monday news conference in which Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright said he did not have sufficient evidence to charge Roethlisberger.

Bright admonished Roethlisberger for putting himself in such a situation and said he needed to "grow up."

Steelers legend Terry Bradshaw chastised Roethlisberger while speaking to reporters Monday in Shreveport, La.

"He's got an image problem right now," said Bradshaw, who won four Super Bowls in the 1970s. "Best thing to do is don't ever put yourself in that position again."

Additional Information:

Accuser's letter

Excerpts from a March 17 letter to District Attorney Fred Bright from the lawyer representing Roethlisberger's accuser:

• 'After a great deal of deliberation, our client has instructed us to advise you that she does not want to prosecute this matter further. While I am well aware that the prosecution decision rests with the District Attorney, and not a complaining party, it is appropriate that you be aware of this fact as you make your decision.'

• 'What is obvious in looking forward is that a criminal trial would be a very intrusive personal experience for a complainant in the situation, given the extraordinary media attention that would be inevitable. The media coverage to date and the efforts of the media to access our client have been unnerving to say the least.'

• 'This decision does not reflect any recanting of our client's complaint, but simply a realistic, personal decision as to what is in her best interests.'

Source: USA Today

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