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Ben Roethlisberger Suspended for Six Games

from www.nytimes.com – Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be suspended for six games and must undergo “comprehensive behavioral counseling,” the N.F.L. announced on Wednesday after Commissioner Roger Goodell decided Roethlisberger had violated the league’s personal-conduct policy in relation to a sexual assault allegation against him.

Goodell met with Roethlisberger last week after a Georgia prosecutor announced that he would not proceed with charges against Roethlisberger. The prosecutor, however, revealed details of Roethlisberger’s behavior on the night of March 4 that were damning to Roethlisberger’s reputation and prompted Goodell to respond.

The league’s ruling came down Wednesday. The suspension could be reduced to four games after Goodell reviews the situation before the season. It could also be extended if Goodell decides Roethlisberger has not cooperated with the program.

“I recognize that the allegations in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you,” Goodell said in a statement.

“My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an N.F.L. player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.”

The allegations stemmed from an allegation by a 20-year-old college student that Roethlisberger assaulted her in a Milledgeville, Ga., bar. The police described a scene where Roethlisberger was buying shots of alcohol for a group of young women in a roped-off V.I.P. section of the bar when the accuser was escorted down a hallway to a small bathroom. The woman accused Roethlisberger of raping her in the bathroom. She underwent a medical exam at a local emergency room, but it was not conclusive that she was assaulted. She later wrote to the police and said she did not want the case prosecuted.

But when Ocmulgee County District Attorney Fred Bright announced that charges would not be brought, he did describe Roethlisberger’s behavior in troubling detail. “We are not condoning Mr. Roethlisberger’s actions that night,” Bright said at the news conference. “But we do not prosecute morals. We prosecute crimes.”

Last week, hundreds of pages of the case file were made public by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, painting an even more complete picture of the evening.

“As the district attorney concluded, the extensive investigatory record shows that you contributed to the irresponsible consumption of alcohol by purchasing (or facilitating the purchase of) alcoholic beverages for under-age college students, at least some of whom were likely already intoxicated,” Goodell said in a letter to Roethlisberger handing down the suspension.

“There is no question that the excessive consumption of alcohol that evening put the students and yourself at risk. The Personal Conduct Policy also states that discipline is appropriate for conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the N.F.L., N.F.L. clubs, or N.F.L. players. By any measure, your conduct satisfies that standard.”

The Steelers last week said that they were prepared to punish Roethlisberger if the league did not.

The Pennsylvania State Police announced Wednesday that Trooper Ed Joyner, who was with Roethlisberger on the night of the alleged assault, would no longer be allowed to work for Roethlisberger when off duty. Joyner had gotten approval from the state police in 2005 to work as an assistant for Roethlisberger, but they determined Joyner’s work had exceeded that scope and said in a statement, “he is alleged to have demeaned the image of the Department.”

The statement said the police continue to investigate Joyner’s actions in relation to the accusations in Georgia, which could warrant further action.

Roethlisberger, 28, is also facing a civil suit by a woman who accused him of raping her in a Lake Tahoe hotel room in 2008.

The Steelers, expecting a suspension, traded for quarterback Byron Leftwich on Tuesday. He is expected to compete with the current backup quarterback Dennis Dixon to play the games that Roethlisberger misses. Even if Goodell does shorten the suspension, the earliest he could return is for a Week 6 game against Cleveland because the Steelers have a bye in Week 5.

The Steelers’ first four games are against Atlanta, Tennessee, Tampa Bay and Baltimore.

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