Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexually abusing a college student in Georgia over a decade ago, sending shivers through the NFL world.
Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ main quarterback at the time, was well-liked by fans after leading the team to two Super Bowl victories.
Despite the fact that Roethlisberger was never charged with a crime, the league suspended him for six games for breaching the league’s personal conduct code. (Roethlisberger’s counsel rejected the sexual assault claim, and the quarterback apologized to the club and supporters in a statement for disappointing them.) For good behavior, the ban was later reduced to four games.
“You have informed me and the Steelers that you are dedicated to making better decisions,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said at the time in a letter to Roethlisberger. “Your recent actions have been consistent with that pledge, and you must continue to fulfill that commitment.”
As a writer covering the league, Melissa Jacobs, now managing editor of The Football Girl and a contributor to The Guardian, recalls hearing about Roethlisberger’s alleged aggression towards women. The NFL, she claimed, appeared absolutely inept at the moment. She was taken aback when the league lowered Roethlisberger’s penalty.
The league is under fire again for its handling of sexual misconduct allegations. This time, the spotlight is on Deshaun Watson.
Watson, the quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, has been accused by over a dozen women of sexually harassing or assaulting them during private massage appointments while with the Houston Texans. Twenty-four women sued Watson in civil court. Twenty-three of those civil actions were resolved confidentially, and two Texas grand juries declined to pursue Watson criminally.
Watson, who has continuously denied any misconduct, was first given a six-game suspension, as was Roethlisberger. However, unlike in the past, Goodell and the NFL went above and above, appealing the verdict and requesting a full-season punishment.
The NFL and the NFL Players Association struck an agreement last week, with Watson receiving an 11-game ban and a $5 million fine. It is the NFL’s heaviest punishment for a sexual assault accusation; in the past, the NFL has handed longer suspensions for offenses such as suspected drug usage and gambling.
The issue is still complicated. There are doubts regarding what the Texans knew about Watson’s massage sessions, for example.
According to ESPN, Watson will not lose much of his guaranteed money under his latest contract with the Browns, his current team. He would have only lost $345,00 if the six-game penalty had been upheld. (At five years and $230 million guaranteed, Watson’s contract is one of the wealthiest in NFL history.)