Base the stance not on legalities, but on standards and values. Base the decision on Roethlisberger's actions -- and his attitude toward his actions.
A suspension is warranted, but it's not enough. Roethlisberger has earned his release.
It's admittedly tough to say what was expected of Roethlisberger in his first public statements concerning that much-publicized March night in Milledgeville, Ga.
But the last thing expected was to hear him speak with defiance and without a hint of remorse. The way Roethlisberger approached things Monday night, you'd have thought he had been overcharged on his credit card or something.
Compare his defiance to these written words from the victim, as relayed by District Attorney Fred Bright: "I told him it wasn't OK. No. We don't need to do this. And I proceeded to get up and try to leave. I went to the first door I saw, which happened to be a bathroom. He followed me into the bathroom and shut the door behind him. I still said no. This is not OK. And he then had sex with me. He said it was OK."
That a crime could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt does not erase these written words from a 20-year-old, written, Bright said, 12 or 13 hours after the incident when she was "sober ... and coherent."
The self-professed "role model" was out buying shots for a group of college sorority girls (legal drinking age in Georgia: 21), and he was investigated for rape after winding up in a tiny bathroom with a 20-year-old coed.
It's the caricature of the buffoon jock come to life -- except it comes at the expense of a college sophomore.
What did Roethlisberger show as he read a 74-second statement to the TV cameras? Defiance. Anger. Resolve. He talked about the absurdity of putting what happened "behind" him and expressed not one shred of regret. It was all about Ben.
To be fair, nobody knows what happened in that bathroom in that bar that night. Nobody was there but Roethlisberger and his accuser.
What is known is that Roethlisberger is a strong 28-year-old who routinely shrugs off tacklers. His accuser is a 20-year-old coed with her life ahead of her.
Roethlisberger has the power of the purse on his side, and the power of the legal culture, which makes things extremely difficult for sexual assault victims. People say a sexual assault victim is assaulted twice -- once when it happens, the second time in court. (Early in the investigation, Roethlisberger hired a high-powered attorney for a case that -- according to him -- should never have gone to court.)
In a letter to the prosecutor, this girl's attorney asked that the prosecution not go forward because she did not want to go through the torment of the trial. Whether her assault claim is right or wrong, her stance on the trial is reasonable.
Roethlisberger may not be guilty of sexual assault, but the story is at best disturbing. He spent the night partying with coeds in Milledgeville, met the victim at one bar and brought her and her friends to another one while they and he spent time in the VIP room.
A bodyguard of the quarterback's led the woman -- who according to Bright was drunk -- down a hallway, and she and Roethlisberger went into a small bathroom while the bodyguard stood watch.
The woman claimed assault. Roethlisberger denied it. Bright could not say, but he said enough when he said he did not try morals but crimes and that Roethlisberger should "grow up."
No matter what happened, this girl must live with what happened. Her damage could be long-lasting; Roethlisberger was "happy" to put it behind him.
Roethlisberger used 17 first-person references in his statement. Never once did he mention the girl, not even to say he regretted what she had been through. Yes, a civil case awaits, but is it so hard to say: "I believe I committed no crime and did no wrong, but I am sorry for any pain this woman has endured." Will that result in lawsuits tripling?
Roethlisberger said the prosecutor came to the "right conclusion," yet the QB will discuss "no details." If he did nothing wrong, what's to be afraid of?
He's sorry for the "negative attention," not for the night of carousing and not for winding up in a bathroom with a 20-year-old, the daughter of a mom and dad in Georgia.
He talked about much being expected of him as quarterback of the Steelers, but said nothing about being a man. About doing the right things. About being responsible. About not luring a 20-year-old into a closet-like bathroom where God knows what happened.
He said he wants to be a leader and a role model for kids, and he has to work to earn trust and show his true values. That's what he said. But we are what we do, not what we say. Our actions define us. Roethlisberger's have spoken loudly in this case.
If any contrition or remorse exists, Roethlisberger did not show it.
Yes, Ben could have come out and put on an act of false contrition and moved on, but people see through a put-on -- just like they can how Roethlisberger acted so put on at this 74-second statement. Put on, as in he was the victim.
Imagine Dan Rooney, the respected leader of the Rooney family and now the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, watching. This is the guy he's entrusted to be the face of his franchise?
At the NFL Meetings in Orlando, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin spoke of the Roethlisberger situation and how the Steelers are viewed in Pittsburgh. This is a team that is part of the fabric of the community, part of a city's identity. It is not a team that accepts what Roethlisberger did and shrugs it off with the same defiance he showed.
"Our standards of conduct, I think, are above and beyond that of our peers," Tomlin said.
"We embrace that."
If that is true -- and there's no reason to think it's not -- then the Steelers need to truly embrace those standards and do something with Roethlisberger. And it's not enough to suspend him.
The Steelers have waited for this investigation to end, and team president Art Rooney II said the team would wait to act on Roethlisberger until after the commissioner talks to him.
Roethlisberger has shown by his actions and his attitude toward his actions that he is not worthy of representing a family as fine as the Rooneys. He is not worthy of sharing the same uniform as Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw and Joe Greene.
The case can be made that Roethlisberger was not even accused, much less convicted. But playing for the Steelers is not determined by a court, or a prosecutor. It's determined by a long-respected family that cherishes values and holds actions to a standard of accountability and responsibility.
If the Steelers embrace higher standards than their peers, they should act on what happened and release Roethlisberger.
Another team might pick him up, and he might play well for that team. So be it.
The Rooneys would have done something with a higher purpose -- and they'll be able to look their fans in the eye knowing they stood for the right things.