Roger Goodell's Treatment of Ben Roethlisberger: Is Race an Issue?

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t wait for Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones to be convicted of a crime before suspending him for detrimental conduct. Despite his second sexual assault allegation in less than a year, Ben Roethlisberger has not faced any disciplinary action from Goodell. In fact, the commissioner hasn’t even met with the Steelers quarterback yet.

ESPN’s Jemele Hill thinks Goodell’s reaction - or lack thereof - to Roethlisberger, who is white, may be racially motivated.

While it would be easy to dismiss Hill's reaction as "just playing the race card" we should examine all of the facts at hand, and try to understand if Hill has a valid point.

On March 5, 2010 Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a young woman in the bathroom of the Capital City bar located in Milledgeville, Georgia. The accuser later received treatment at a nearby hospital for head trauma after the alleged attack.

Roethlisberger claimed the woman had fallen and hit her head in the bathroom of the bar. Authorities initially requested that Roethlisberger submit a DNA test, but later withdrew the request. By all reports, the two-time NFL champion is cooperating with police.

In July of 2009, the Steeler quarterback faced similar accusations stemming from an incident in Lake Tahoe where a woman claimed he forced himself on her after inviting her up to his room. It later came out through a co-worker’s statement that the accuser bragged about having consensual sex with Roethlisberger. Further, the accuser allegedly claimed that she hoped that Roethlisberger had impregnated her.

While it is still too early to determine what happened with the Milledgeville incident, it does appear as though Roethlisberger is innocent of the Lake Tahoe allegations. However, two sexual assault accusations in less than a year is a troubling pattern for the face of one of the most storied franchises in the NFL.

Since accepting his role as commissioner in 2006, Roger Goodell has been a no-nonsense disciplinarian. After a series of public scandals involving NFL players, the new commissioner introduced a fresh personnel conduct policy in 2007.  According to this policy, the league’s commissioner could sanction any player whose conduct was deemed “detrimental” to the league. In other words, Goodell is not bound by the due process ideals that our legal system is based on. He can punish a player before he is convicted.

Jones was one of the first players to be suspended under the league’s new policy. The troubled cornerback had been arrested on numerous occasions for an assortment of reasons, but was never convicted at the time of his suspension. Goodell claimed that the reason for the suspension was that Jones brought embarrassment to his fellow players and damaged the reputation of the league.

Jones is black. Roethlisberger is white. Some, like Hill, are claiming that they are beginning to see a double standard.

Critics of Goodell’s lack of punishment towards Roethlisberger are citing his quickness to act in the case of Jones. Why we aren’t seeing a similar swiftness with the Steelers quarterback? Like Jones, Roethlisberger has been repeatedly accused and never convicted of crimes.  Like Jones, Roethlisberger is - not for the first time - guilty of at the very least bad judgment on the nights in question. Like Jones, Roethlisberger has watched his head coach come out and express deep concern for his actions.

So why did Goodell suspend Jones before conviction yet not even bother to meet with Roethlisberger?

Rather than try to guess why Goodell has been so lackadaisical in his response to the Roethlisberger, it would be easier to bring up several other cases of Goodell’s disciplinary actions. While the NFL commissioner did not wait for convictions in Jones’ case, he did not move as quickly with other black players. Michael Vick and Terry ‘Tank’ Johnson had both pleaded guilty to their respective charges before Goodell issued their suspensions. As easily as you can offer an example of Goodell quickly doling out punishment to black players, you can show cases of him taking the “wait and see” approach.

What do you think? Is this a case of racial bias on the part of Goodell towards Roethlisberger? Is two sexual assault allegations in less than a year enough to be determined “detrimental” conduct? Or is the way Goodell treated Vick and Johnson enough of an example that he doesn’t always punish before the legal proceedings are completed?


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