The Roethlisberger Case: A postscript.
I've come into possession of the letter sent by David Cornwell, the attorney for Ben Roethlisberger, to the commissioner after Roger Goodell met with Roethlisberger in April and before Goodell issued his sanction against the Steelers quarterback for his loutish behavior. It's interesting to me for a couple of reasons. Goodell and Cornwell used to work together in the NFL office and are friendly; the letter has a familiar but legal tone to it befitting a lawyer comfortable giving frank advice and opinion to his former league peer.
Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum has a Roethlisberger story in the magazine coming out this week, with the help of some fine SI reporting. When you read the piece, you'll understand, I think, why both Cornwell and Goodell thought this shouldn't be your garden-variety suspension, but rather a suspension paired with counseling.
The letter, dated April 15, reads in part:
Dear Commissioner Goodell:
I am confident that we share the same view of the men who play professional football. While the public sees men of extraordinary athletic prowess, rarely is there any acknowledgement of the years of physical and mental preparation or the commitment that is made merely to be in the position to compete on Sundays. This pervasive blind spot tends to cause the public and the media to focus primarily on the football player and not the man who plays football. But, we know better.
My view is that too often there is an inverse relationship between the player's talent and the man's ability to confront and overcome challenges of life away from the game. I have gotten to know Ben extremely well over the past year. Watching Ben off the field has given me great insight into why he has been so successful on it. Ben's rectilinear approach and his method of analysis -- processing things as a quarterback so that he is in control -- have served him well as a football player, but this singular focus is the primary reason that he is facing the challenges that he currently confronts. Life cedes control to no man.
Though I could not have predicted these specifics, I am not surprised that Ben is dealing with a challenge of personal development. His passion for football and the remarkable success resulting from his commitment to the game necessarily means that he has compromised his development in other areas. No person has unlimited capacity. I believe that Ben's challenge is to channel some of the energy he has committed to becoming an extraordinary player into becoming an equally extraordinary person.
While Ben's sexual activities may offend some, anyone would have been hard pressed to predict that Ben's actions would have resulted in such vicious and false allegations. Ben bears exclusive responsibility for the consequences of his choices, but that does not mean that these particular consequences were foreseeable. Whether it is in the privacy of a hotel room or in the more risky environment of a semi-public restroom, a false allegation of rape simply is not within the zone of the foreseeable consequences of consensual sex.
There are two prongs to the intended effect of discipline. One is to discourage repetition of the offending behavior. The other is to encourage behavior that is more consistent with accepted principles and/or established procedures. What Ben should not have done is abundantly clear. What he should have done differently remains elusive. None of the numerous people with whom I have discussed this matter has offered a tangible alternative to the choices that Ben made other than to suggest that Ben "make better choices" in the future.
I cannot fathom how a suspension or any other form of traditional discipline will help Ben make a better choice the next time he decides to have consensual sex. The difficulty that Ben had in articulating a distinction between the risks associated with private and semi-public sex is the product of the undeniable similarity between the Reno and Georgia accusations, even though one event occurred in the privacy of Ben's hotel room and the other in a semi-public bathroom.
As you consider your options, I hope you will focus on an approach that establishes a direct nexus between your response and the issue to which it responds. Whether I am considering these options as Ben's advocate or as the person who has had the privilege of engaging in frank discussions with you unburdened by our professional affiliations, I am unable to discern a link between a suspension and any useful lesson or message that would tend to alter Ben's conduct in the future.
This is one of the more challenging conduct issues that you have confronted because the fundamental issue does not involve an arrest or criminal charges. This is an issue of lifestyle and the need to develop the tools and a method for addressing the unique challenges and opportunities that flow from the stature and celebrity enjoyed by the men who play football. I trust Ben's private conversation with you gave you a glimpse into the difficulty he had in distinguishing who he is from what he does. The public and media have yet to master this distinction. In considering where all of this will lead us, I take comfort in knowing that Ben is not the first 28 year old man to confront the reality of his actions being inconsistent with his values. Luckily, most of us have the benefit of navigating the treacherous waters of maturation outside of the glare of the media and the public.
Following a recent disciplinary hearing, you and I discussed privately your commitment to address each case based on its unique set of facts, without regard for the rancor of the public and the press. I know your commitment remains unchanged. We have also discussed my view that under certain circumstances imposing traditional discipline following a meeting between you and a player tends to devalue the impact of your unique qualities as Commissioner. While your authority emanates from the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, your effectiveness is the product of your ability to connect with the men who play the game in a manner that neither of your predecessors enjoyed.
The nuanced and dynamic nature of the issues that got us here requires an equally nuanced and dynamic response. I look forward to continuing our discussions so that we can structure such an appropriate response.
Very truly yours,
Postscript: Six days later, Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for a minimum of four and a maximum of six games, and ordered him to undergo counseling after a comprehensive behavioral evaluation, banning him from team activities until counselors allow him to rejoin the team. The evaluation is likely to be completed soon, but there's no telling when he'll be able to return to work with his teammates.
Once Goodell issued his sanction, Cornwell wrote the commissioner and thanked him and league attorneys Jeff Pash and Adolpho Birch for their "genuine concern for the well-being of the man in discharging your official functions. I appreciate your candor and accessibility throughout the process with Ben. In the end, we will be measured by whether we made a difference. You did your part and I am grateful.''
At a time when there's such animus between the league and those who contest cases with it, that's a refreshing conclusion to a contentious case.
Waxman could render future Starcaps cases moot very soon.
I'm hearing California Democratic congressman Henry Waxman is close to introducing legislation in the U.S. House that would make drug policies negotiated as part of a national collective bargaining agreement -- such as the one the NFL negotiates with players -- override state drug-testing laws. You'll recall that Viking defensive linemen Kevin and Pat Williams tested positive for a banned NFL substance contained in weight-loss supplement Starcaps, but a four-week suspension was thrown out, in part, because the players argued successfully that Minnesota labor law superseded the NFL's drug policy, and Minnesota law was more lenient than the league's. If Waxman's legislation -- which will cover all sports, not just the NFL -- is successful, it won't be retroactive. But it would prevent every player in a major sport from appealing to the laws of the state the team plays in if the player tests positive for a banned substance in his league.
And now for some real football news.
Notes on five notables from weekend camps:
Armanti Edwards, second-round Carolina wideout. After a tough first day of NFL receiver work Friday, the converted Appalachian State quarterback (you'll recall he beat fifth-ranked Michigan at the Big House with three touchdown passes and one rushing in 2007) starred Saturday, making a couple of one-handed catches, one from fellow rookie Tony Pike. There's going to be pressure on Edwards to play a big role, and to play it early, after the Panthers dealt a 2011 second-round pick for the third-rounder they used to select him.
Sean McDermott, Philadelphia defensive coordinator. Last year, the baby-faced McDermott scotch-taped things together pretty well after succeeding the late Jim Johnson -- until the final two games of the season. Dallas exposed the Philly D for 58 points. Now McDermott will have a costly new pass-rusher, top pick Brandon Graham, plus a new linebacking corps (as well as holdover Stewart Bradley, who missed the season with knee reconstruction). McDermott likes what he's seen in outside linebacker Ernie Sims, acquired from Detroit via trade. "There's a shark in the water, and his name's Ernie Sims,'' he said.
Koa Misi, second-round Miami outside linebacker. The Dolphins dealt the 12th pick in the draft to San Diego for the 28th (defensive end Jared Odrick) and 40th (Misi) picks, and after one minicamp, it looks like both will be starting. The Dolphins allowed their two aging sackers, Joey Porter and Jason Taylor, to walk this offseason. They researched the heck out of the college football pass-rush lineup. Though they liked Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan, there wasn't unanimous support for him among the scouts and front office, so Miami traded down, recouped the second-round pick lost in the Brandon Marshall trade with Denver, and took Misi with that pick. He's vital to what Miami will do on defense.
Over the weekend, Misi, mostly a defensive lineman in the 4-3 at Utah, was put permanently at outside 'backer. "It was something different than in college and I am ready to play this position,'' he said. "I am open for new things, and playing linebacker is something that I always wanted to play in college, so being able to play it out here is something that is good for me.''
LenDale White, Seattle running back. He weighed 218 over the weekend, down from the high 230s, and coach Pete Carroll, who had him at USC, said, "I don't think he was that light when we recruited him.''
Funny what happens to a guy when he looks in the mirror and sees the end of a promising career. White said Saturday he's determined to win the starting job, which I'm sure is the same thing Julius Jones and Leon Washington are saying. Washington, returning from a mangled leg, will likely compete for playing time with sparkplug Justin Forsett. White will have the chance to supplant Jones. Should be an interesting camp if White can stay hungry and light, at the same time.
Trent Williams, first-round Washington tackle. There's a scarlet "W'' (for "work ethic'') on Williams' chest after Oklahoma's strength coach told the Washington Post that Williams was "definitely not a gym rat ... There's a lot of talent there he just hasn't tapped.'' The Redskins surely plan to start Williams, likely at left tackle, and he'll make his debut in camp this weekend. With what follows him from Oklahoma, he'll have to work harder than he did there. That brings us back to the issue Ross Tucker, the former Redskins guard, raised with me on Sirius NFL Radio the other day: "If you're lazy when you're poor and trying to be rich, what are you going to be when you're rich?''
Last chance to get your seats to a great event. Step right up!
We've added a couple of perks to the football event of the spring in New England: the New England Locker Room Luncheon, benefiting the Matt Light Foundation and the Greater Boston Food Bank. The luncheon (Tuesday May 11, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) will be in a small room at the outstanding Foxboro restaurant, Davio's, a few long spirals from Gillette Stadium, and we've got some tickets remaining. You'll hear Light, the Patriots' left tackle, and Patriots wideout Julian Edelman talking about their lives and their team, and you'll hear me and Patriots beat man Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com grill them. Autographs, photos, baby-kissing -- the $1,000 donation will buy you anything your heart desires.
We're also throwing in three perks (well, the first two are perks, and the third -- well, you decide).
1. One lunch guest will receive two prime tickets to the game of the season, November's New England-Indianapolis showdown.
2. One lunch guest will have Light record a voice-mail greeting on both home and cell phones.
3. One lunch guest will get me, after visiting 21 training camps this summer, as his or her personal fantasy-football consultant. I'll either go with you to your draft, or I'll talk you through your draft before you go in.
Last thing: I'm involved with the Food Bank, and I know the incredible work it does (one in every 13 eastern Massachusetts residents gets food annually from the agency, totaling 31 million pounds of food), and I know the hands-on work Light's foundation does with at-risk teens across the country. Both are very much in need of your assistance. If you can help, I'll be forever grateful. I realize how many needy causes there are in the country, and I thank you for the generosity you've shown the causes (Five for Fighting, Dr. Z) I've championed in this column. I could use about 10 of you to step up if you're at all able. Thanks.
For ticket information, please e-mail Margrette Mondillo at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 781-784-5381.
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