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Harris: Ben must sell himself to Steelers

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Friday, April 16, 2010

The easy part was determining that Ben Roethlisberger needs to be punished.

The hard part is pulling the trigger.

The fallout from Georgia reverberated throughout the country.

"In terms of the team's image, certainly, I feel like we've taken a hit," Steelers president Art Rooney II said at a news conference Thursday.

The Steelers now have to hear about how Roethlisberger, despite not being charged with a crime, failed to uphold the franchise's proud tradition. And how the Steelers traded Santonio Holmes but are letting Roethlisberger off the hook. And how punishing the black player and treading lightly with the white player could have racial overtones on a team whose roster is predominately black.

The Steelers also have to listen to questions about why it's taking NFL commissioner Roger Goodell so long to punish Roethlisberger and whether Goodell is going to deflect that responsibility to the Steelers, which Rooney said appears likely.

Yesterday was about damage control on the South Side.

"We believe that each of our players not only has a responsibility to live up to the highest standards on the field but also to equally high standards off the field," Rooney read from a prepared statement. "Receiving the support of Pittsburgh Steelers fans all over the world is something that must be earned."

Roethlisberger is one of the most famous athletes of his generation, but he blew it. The Steelers have determined Roethlisberger has to pay for even the appearance of inappropriate behavior.

Team officials made it clear how they feel about Roethlisberger on Monday when he read a prepared statement in front of his locker instead of the Steelers' logo.

By himself.

Yesterday, Rooney stood in front of the team logo and placed full blame on Roethlisberger.

"I have made it clear to Ben that his conduct in this incident did not live up to our standards," Rooney said. "After imposing an appropriate level of discipline and outlining the steps we feel will be necessary to be successful as a player and a person, we intend to allow Ben the opportunity to prove to us he is the teammate and citizen we all believe he is capable of being."

Rooney did not indicate whether the punishment will be a suspension or a fine. What's significant is that, for the first time, someone in the Steelers' hierarchy yanked Roethlisberger off his high horse.

It's a whole new world for Roethlisberger, who had to convince his bosses to let him participate in voluntary practices.

"We allowed Ben to do this after we were convinced he was sincerely contrite for his behavior," Rooney said.

The quarterback who won two Super Bowls before the age of 27 and is among the highest-paid players in sports had to sell himself to his employer. Imagine that.

That may have hurt Roethlisberger — who's accustomed to getting what he wants — more than the allegation of sexual assault.

Maybe that's part of the punishment, to make Roethlisberger beg for his job.

"It's a situation where we're giving Ben an opportunity to regain respect. We felt like we wanted to make sure we had Ben's commitment," said Rooney, who emphasized the Steelers haven't engaged in trade talks regarding Roethlisberger.


Rooney didn't dismiss the idea that Roethlisberger could be traded.

"At this point, we have not discussed trade with any other club," he said.

Rooney said "multiple violations" resulted in Holmes' trade to the New York Jets.

Choosing between Roethlisberger and Holmes is like splitting hairs — except that No. 7 is on a longer leash.

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