This is a conspiracy for two reasons: the silly length of Roethlisberger's suspension and the highly suspicious timing of it all.
I mean, just four to six games?
What a joke. What's more laughable is to hear those applauding NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his toughness. You have others grumbling that the punishment was too severe, but here's the truth: Eight games to a year was more appropriate for a player accused of rape twice within nine months. He also stiff-armed orders from former Steelers coach Bill Cowher in 2006 by riding a motorcycle, and then the helmet-less quarterback nearly died in a crash.
If nothing else, courtesy of those other suspensions by Goodell -- ranging from eight games for Tank Johnson and Chris Henry to an entire season for Pacman Jones -- consistency says Roethlisberger deserved more than this.
Instead of consistency, we're back to conspiracy. For one, this timing of Roethlisberger's suspension is -- well, um, -- curious.
It was 10 days ago. That was when a district attorney in Milledgeville, Ga., announced that he lacked the evidence to press charges against Roethlisberger after the bar-hopping birthday boy was accused by a "highly intoxicated" 20-year-old woman of sexual assault in a nightclub restroom. Even so, given the ugly details in the police report, and since the district attorney clearly thought Roethlisberger was guilty by referring to the woman as "the victim" throughout his news conference, everybody knew back then that the guy should be suspended.
That the guy would be suspended.
That the guy did more than a few things to rank within several hash marks of NFL players who received lengthy suspensions for their transgressions.
That the guy was going to get spanked by the league in a hurry, especially given Goodell's mantra after he became commissioner in August 2006 that he will do whatever it takes to "protect the [NFL] shield."
Now we see that Goodell's mantra has contradictions, and critics inside and outside of the NFL mention that Johnson, Jones and Henry, for instance, are African-Americans, and that Roethlisberger isn't. They mention that those African-American players received stiffer suspensions than Roethlisberger for things that weren't worse than a couple of rape allegations. They mention that 15 of the 16 players overall who were disciplined by Goodell before Roethlisberger were African-Americans.
They also mention that the Steelers traded Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes earlier this month to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft pick after a serious of issues, and that Holmes also is African-American.
Race factors into all things in society -- including this case -- but this case is more about this: Goodell is giving Roethlisberger a break compared to the others since Roethlisberger is a big-time quarterback with two Super Bowl rings.
Remember, too, that he plays (at least for the moment) for a Pittsburgh franchise with a famously vibrant fan base. As is the case with the Dallas Cowboys, the New York teams and the Green Bay Packers, the more the Steelers prosper, the more the league does the same.
So this made sense: You had that Milledgeville District Attorney saying of Roethlisberger during his news conference, "If he were my son, the best way I could answer it is, 'Ben, grow up,' " and then you had those among the logical waiting for the commissioner to sack Roethlisberger within days.
Instead, Goodell waited. And then he waited. Mostly, he waited until after the league announced its 2010 schedule on Tuesday.
Before we get to that schedule, Roethlisberger is an accomplished knucklehead, but he isn't so much of one that he won't comply with Goodell's likely request to undergo counseling, submit to random testing and stay away from rape accusations. As a result, Roethlisberger will miss four games instead of the whole six.
Which brings us to that schedule and the NFL's version of a second gunman.
It just so happens that of the four games Roethlisberger would miss for the Steelers (Atlanta, Tennessee, Tampa Bay and Baltimore), at least three of them aren't marquee games . Not only that, the Steelers have a bye during the season's fifth week. They also have an unofficial bye after that when the Cleveland Browns come to town.
So, if we really are talking about just a four-week suspension for Roethlisberger, NFL officials gave the guy a couple of weeks to prepare for the second half of the Steelers' schedule that features five prime-time games.
Consider this three-week stretch: In the Steelers' eighth game, they play in New Orleans on Sunday night against the Saints, the defending world champions. The week after that, they are Monday night hosts to AFC North rival Cincinnati. The week after that, they are home against the perennially tough New England Patriots.
If Roethlisberger gets at least the eight-game suspension that he deserves, the NFL loses that ratings-grabbing matchup between Roethlisberger and Drew Brees, for sure, and maybe those involving Roethlisberger versus Carson Palmer and Tom Brady.
This is so blatant, especially when you consider all of those other strange things surrounding Roethlisberger's current case. His accuser gave her statement to the same Milledgeville police officer who posed for a picture with Roethlisberger earlier in the night. That officer later resigned after he admitted to uttering derogatory statements to his colleagues about the accuser.
There also was the video that showed Roethlisberger and his accuser inside that Milledgeville nightclub before the alleged sexual assault.
There was that video.
It was erased. According to the nightclub owner, the DVD system "overwrote" itself and destroyed the only copy of the recording.
Then there was that cleaning thing. Nearly eight hours after Roethlisberger left the restroom with his accuser, a janitor spruced up the place with Clorox and Pine-Sol, essentially destroying the crime scene.
If you connect the dots, it is what it is.
Here's what it is: Instead of protecting the shield, this is about a bunch of shameless folks protecting Big Ben.