Steelers facing an ugly dilemma
The Roethlisberger and Holmes assault cases are a PR nightmare for the Steelers
Suspensions of the two will surely harm the Steelers' playoff chances next season
Many Steelers fans say they are sick of Roethlisberger and ready to dump him
Fourteen months ago, Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes were on opposite ends of a six-yard touchdown pass that gave Pittsburgh its record sixth Super Bowl title. Now they're defending themselves against separate allegations -- Roethlisberger for allegedly sexually assaulting a 20-year-old college student in a Georgia nightclub, and Holmes for allegedly injuring a woman in an Orlando, Fla. nightclub. Possible suspensions and the eroding confidence of the team's fan base make this the biggest dilemma the Steelers have had in a long time.
If this were a third-string left guard busted for a DUI or a backup linebacker charged with domestic abuse, most players would barely bat an eyelash. But when it's players of Holmes' and Roethlisberger's status, it's different. Especially Roethlisberger. As the starting quarterback and face of the franchise, he is held to a higher standard. A standard that, quite frankly, he has fallen far short of during his time in the NFL.
The key questions are if this latest allegation will have an impact on Roethlisberger's playing status for the 2010 season in any way or if the entire team will be affected. The Steelers are coming off a disappointing season in which they failed to make the postseason following their dramatic Super Bowl win in February 2009. If Roethlisberger ends up suspended for a game or more, it could be the difference in making or missing the playoffs. And when the Pittsburgh Steelers don't make the playoffs, there are changes. Just ask special teams coach Bob Ligashesky and offensive line coach Larry Zierlein, who were fired after last year's 9-7 season. Or cornerback Deshea Townsend and running back Willie Parker, who are unlikely to be re-signed.
The Steelers are reportedly spending a lot of time thinking about how they should handle the allegations against their two stars, and rightfully so. The first thing they need to be prepared for is the possibility of losing Roethlisberger for part of the season if he ends up being suspended under the NFL's player conduct policy. They recently re-signed veteran backup Charlie Batch to a two-year deal and have expressed confidence that youngster Dennis Dixon can get the job done. If you ask me, Batch is too old and Dixon too green for me to believe that either could lead the Steelers for an extended period. In fact, the loss to the Baltimore Ravens last season, in which Dixon filled in for Roethlisberger, proved to be the difference in missing the playoffs.
That is the immediate on-the-field situation the Steelers must ready for. But that's not nearly as big as the decreasing confidence among their faithful. There is, perhaps, no other fan base that associates itself as much with the core values of its NFL team. Tough, hard-working, blue-collar and family-oriented are the words you hear about the Rooney family-owned Steelers and the city they play in. That is why Roethlisberger's and Holmes' alleged actions, if true, would be so difficult to stomach. Especially Roethlisberger, given that he has not exactly endeared himself off the field to the people in Pittsburgh since he arrived in 2004.
Multiple media reports coming out of Pittsburgh indicate that the sentiment around the city and on talk radio is decidedly anti-Ben. Almost 100 percent of the Steelers fans who have called recent Sirius NFL Radio shows have said they are sick of him and ready to move on without him.
That may just be raw emotion talking because it's debatable whether those fans are really willing to jettison their two-time Super Bowl championship quarterback. What is not up for debate is that the Steelers front office knows it has a real dilemma on its hands and likely needs to do something to show its loyal followers that behavior like this, if proved true, will no longer be tolerated.
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