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ORLANDO, Fla. - Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger finds himself in more hot water - this time with the National Football League.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sounded an ominous tone yesterday for Roethlisberger during a news conference at the NFL meetings. Goodell said he wants to meet with him specifically to talk about the sexual assault accusations that have been made against the Steelers quarterback the last nine months.
"First, I think the most important thing is we take the issue very seriously," Goodell said. "We are concerned that Ben continues to put himself in this position. I have spoken to the Steelers. I have spoken to Art Rooney directly about it. And at the appropriate time, I will be meeting with Ben."
It is the first time Goodell has spoken about Roethlisberger's case. The Steelers quarterback is under investigation in Georgia after he was accused by a 20-year-old female college student of sexual assault in the early morning hours of March 5. A woman in Nevada also has filed a civil lawsuit against Roethlisberger accusing him of sexual assault.
A player — or any NFL employee — does not have to be convicted of a criminal charge to be disciplined by the league. For example, Goodell suspended Denver wide receiver Brandon Marshall last season for one game and docked him two weeks' pay for violating the league's conduct policy after he was charged with several misdeeds, including domestic abuse. Marshall later was cleared of all charges.
Goodell also can order Roethlisberger to undergo counseling.
The accusations moved Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to say Saturday that "I'm highly concerned for our franchise and for Ben personally."
The coach made those comments to the NFL Network but declined to speak about his quarterback in any regard during an interview with Pittsburgh reporters yesterday. Tomlin said he talked to the NFL Network about it "because it's the NFL Network, and the NFL is one and the same."
Left unsaid is why he is so concerned about the Steelers' franchise.
"I've said one comment, and that's all I'm going to say," he added. "I'm not going to comment on the comment."
Tomlin vowed not to say anything about Roethlisberger during the annual breakfast interview sessions yesterday with AFC head coaches and the media.
Although he has been in Pittsburgh since the alleged incident in Georgia, Roethlisberger has not attended workouts with his teammates that began March 15 at the Steelers' facility on the South Side.
Tomlin would not say when or if he expected the quarterback to join those workouts. Tomlin has scheduled his first two of 14 organized team activities, which include practices, for April 19 and 20.
Rooney, the Steelers' president, has said the team will take a wait-and-see attitude about making any personnel moves because of Roethlisberger's situation. Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations, maintained this week that they will not choose a quarterback high in the April 22-24 NFL draft.
The Steelers have been rumored to be interested in Tampa Bay backup quarterback Byron Leftwich, who backed up Roethlisberger, a Findlay native, with the Steelers for the 2008 season. They also hope to re-sign veteran backup Charlie Batch soon. Sources indicate that if Roethlisberger were unable to play, third-year quarterback Dennis Dixon would start, as he did in November when Roethlisberger was held out of their game in Baltimore.
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it" is all Tomlin would say about it.
Investigators in Georgia still are trying to interview Roethlisberger. Asked yesterday about Goodell's intent to talk to the quarterback, Rebkah Howard, speaking on behalf of Roethlisberger, his agent, Ryan Tollner, and William David Cornwell, Sr., an Atlanta-based attorney on the quarterback's defense team for the Nevada suit, said, "Frankly, Mr. Tollner, David Cornwell, and even Ben, really, just have no comment at this point."
Roethlisberger's criminal defense attorney, Edward T.M. Garland, could not be reached.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ed Bouchette is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.