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Published: Wednesday, 4/14/2010

Steelers owners need to deal with Big Ben

The district attorney in Georgia who investigated allegations of a sex crime against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger determined evidence did not exist that could prove guilt beyond any reasonable doubt.

"We do not prosecute morals," he said. "We prosecute crimes."

Big Ben isn't out of the woods, though.

That's because there is a family in Pittsburgh, the Rooneys, who have been prosecuting morals and serving as judge and jury for a long time.

There is perhaps no franchise in professional sports where the character card is shuffled higher into the deck than with the Steelers.

Case in point - Santonio Holmes.

The former Ohio State receiver and first-round draft pick is two seasons removed from being the Super Bowl MVP after his electric, tightrope-walking touchdown catch at the edge of the end zone. He is just months removed from a team-best 1,248 receiving yards.

But he has occasionally been as troubled as he is talented and on Monday, when the NFL dealt him a four-game suspension for substance abuse, the Steelers took about 10 minutes to trade him to the New York Jets for a paltry fifth-round draft choice.

Like most franchises, the Steelers will put up with some grief from big-play talents. But the team's owners, the Rooneys, also will get fed up and move to protect their brand faster than most all ownership groups. There are plenty of examples through the years, Holmes merely being the latest and maybe the most extreme, of Steelers being released or traded at the height of their productivity because of character issues.

Roethlisberger doesn't face the same fate, but he should have a price to pay.

The Findlay High School product was in New York yesterday to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and as daunting an experience as that has been for some of the league's miscreants, Roethlisberger should be more concerned with the Rooneys.

Although Goodell has acted without reservation in extreme violations of the NFL's personal conduct policy - Michael Vick and Pacman Jones, to name two examples - the league normally leaves it to teams to deal with players who are under contract and only gets directly involved if it feels punishment is inadequate.

That should not be a problem with the Rooneys, who are none too happy with Roethlisberger's recent problems and absolutely have to suspend him for multiple games at the start of the 2010 regular season.

The quarterback is already facing a civil suit in Nevada for sexual assault. Whether or not that case has merit, the fact that he would turn around and put himself in a similar position again goes beyond bad judgment regardless of the DA's decision to not charge him with a crime.

The Steelers need to deal sternly with Roethlisberger for two reasons.

One, he has to be taught that it is time to act like the adult he is, not an undisciplined juvenile with more dollars than sense, more attuned to that warped sense of entitlement shared by so many star athletes than to proper values. No monetary fine will send that message. Only the sense that he has let down his teammates might accomplish that.

Secondly, the locker room is watching. Holmes is black. Roethlisberger is white. There was zero tolerance for one. The other can't get a slap on the wrist simply because he is a franchise quarterback.

Roethlisberger has an image problem. Whether he cares is up for debate. But the Rooneys have always cared about the Steelers' image.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg

at:dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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