What has me concerned at the moment the fact that Roger Goodell can hand out multiple-game suspensions like they were Halloween candy, at his own personal whim. This might not be a problem today or tomorrow, but it opens the NFL up to some potentially difficult situations in the future.
Roethlisberger, as I'm sure you're aware, got slapped with a very expensive six-game vacation from the commissioner today. As you're also aware, Roethlisberger has never been charged with a crime. It is, as Michael Tunison points out here, the first time the league has ever suspended a player without an arrest, formal criminal charges or failed drug test.
So by what rule can the commissioner hit Roethlisberger with a six-game time-out? No rule, really. Goodell just said in his statement regarding the suspension that Roethlisberger's behavior wasn't "admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans."
And maybe there's nothing about that that isn't true. I don't disagree. My own personal feeling is that Ben Roethlisberger is, at the very least, a filthy dirtbag.
My problem is that Goodell's statement, when you examine it, is really just a prettier way of saying, "Ben is suspended because a) he's a filthy dirtbag, and b) a lot of people now feel like a prominent NFL star is a filthy dirtbag, and that pisses me off."
Again, Goodell might not be wrong in this. The difference between me thinking that Roethlisberger's a dirtbag, though, and Goodell thinking that Roethlisberger's a dirtbag, is that Goodell is the guy with the gavel. He decides who plays, who doesn't, and who loses a whole lot of money.
He's getting into an an extremely gray area (no offense, Ben) here, from which to enact a league policy.
The precedent set here is basically, "I'm Roger Goodell, and I can suspend anyone at any time if I feel like they have, in some way, harmed the NFL's image."
And I get that image protection is important with the NFL, because there is an image problem out there. But doesn't this decision open up the possibility of a major suspension being handed out someday on the grounds of a false accusation? Or for some other thing that someone didn't really do, but still generated negative headlines for the NFL?
There just aren't any rules here. If there are, they're vague things like, "Don't be accused of something that might make the league look bad," or "Don't piss off Roger Goodell."
Like I said, this isn't about Roethlisberger. I doubt too many people out there feel like Ben Roethlisberger has been wronged here, and I'm willing to bet, given the current trend in public sentiment towards harsh punishments and "eye-for-an-eye" justice, that there's not going to be any significant backlash against the Roethlisberger suspension. In fact, I just talked to one very casual fan who felt like Ben got off light. This person thought a full year would've been appropriate.
But the point is this: When ultimate power is left in the hands of one guy, and there are no clear rules to really dictate what that guy can or can't do, it's only a matter of time before that guy screws up a decision.
He's human. Sooner or later, under these very gray guidelines, he's going to make a decision that will turn out to be the wrong one, and then the NFL's going to have a very different kind of problem on its hands.