Reading excerpts from police reports released by the Milledgeville, Ga., police department documenting claims against Ben Roethlisberger, my first reaction was to scream for the police to lock "Little Ben" (one thing that is eminently clear is that this is an incredibly small man) up for life and throw away the key. My second reaction was to puke. Roethlisberger is guilty of some truly disgusting actions, but it is impossible to know just how much of the worst is true without some reasonable doubt.
I can't imagine any human being not being repulsed by the accusations levied against him by Andrea McNulty, the woman who filed a civil suit against him in Nevada alleging he raped her on July 11, 2008, and the 20-year-old Georgia College and State University coed who has accused Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting her in the bathroom of a Milledgeville bar on March 5, 2010. Equally disturbing are the accusations of the coed's friends — Ann Marie Lubatti, Nicole Biancofiore and Victoria Garofalo — that Roethlisberger's "bodyguards," several reported to be off-duty police officers, conspired with Roethlisberger to facilitate the alleged assault. But as long as Roethlisberger continues to vehemently deny the Nevada rape and refuses to publicly offer any details as to what happened in Georgia, reasonable doubt must exist.
(The Steelers released a statement from Roethlisberger on Monday, in which he apologized to his teammates and fans for his behavior, saying he would not put himself in such a situation again and vowing to "make the necessary improvements." Although emphasizing that he hadn't committed a crime, Roethlisberger said he wouldn't appeal his suspension. He provided no details about the events in Georgia and wasn't available to answer questions.)
We can base our opinions on the statement of a Roethlisberger buddy, Brad Aurila, who was with the quarterback in Georgia and told the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that Roethlisberger said he was "messing around" with his accuser, admitting he was in the bathroom with her. We know from the medical report on his Georgia accuser there were signs of vaginal bruising and bleeding — no indication of whether the sex was consensual or not, or who it was with. There are strong indications from the Milledgeville D.A. that the most compelling reason for not filing criminal charges was how intoxicated the accuser was. We also know that in Nevada, McNulty did offer to drop her civil suit if Roethlisberger would admit to the rape. There are currently no indications any civil actions will be filed in the Georgia case, suggesting the accusations aren't financially motivated.
What is absolutely clear is the very best we can say of the Steelers' quarterback is he went to great lengths to get a 20-year-old girl as intoxicated as possible with the intent of having sex with her. I defy anybody reading this to show me a language in which that doesn't spell "scumbag." As the father of a beautiful daughter in her 20s, I can't find the words to describe the anger and outrage I feel toward Roethlisberger for that alone, and if any of the other allegations are true ...
So where do we go from here? NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended Roethlisberger for the first six games of the 2010 season for violating the league's personal-conduct policy, with the possibility the suspension may be reduced to four games if he completes certain evaluations and accepts counseling. Is it enough? In my mind clearly not, but I'm not sure what else Goodell can do since no criminal charges have ever been filed against Roethlisberger. I applaud the commissioner for pushing the limits of how severely he can punish the QB without it blowing up in his face.
There is one other option that I believe would be fitting, but it places a horribly unfair burden on the Rooney family, whom I respect more than any other ownership group in the NFL. I'd like to see them release Roethlisberger and make it clear he's not someone the Steelers family is willing to be tainted by. But I also understand that would severely punish the Steelers and their fans for something they couldn't be more innocent of, and they deserve better than that.
In the end, all any of us can do is hope that eventually the truth comes out and all the guilty parties here receive the punishment they deserve, vowing that none of us who consider ourselves human beings will ever embarrass or belittle ourselves again by cheering or admiring "Little Ben," at least until he proves me and the mountain of circumstantial evidence against him wrong. And should N.O.W. or some other group organize a rally highlighted by a bonfire fueled by Roethlisberger jerseys, I'd like to officially volunteer to throw the first match.
For the most authoritative NFL draft news and free-agency analysis, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.