Thu, Apr 15, 2010 - Page 19 News List

NFL star faces backlash over behavior

CONTROVERSIES Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of rape and sexual assault and was involved in a motorcycle accident while not wearing a helmet

NY TIME NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

The fallout has begun for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for two hours on Tuesday regarding his involvement last month with a 20-year-old college student in a Georgia bar.

A Pittsburgh-based company that marketed Big Ben Beef Jerky — and made a sensation of Flutie Flakes — ended its five-year business relationship with Roethlisberger on Tuesday. The owner of PLB Sports, Ty Ballou, said he made the decision after hearing the lurid details of Roethlisberger’s encounter with the woman, which were revealed by a Georgia district attorney on Monday. Roethlisberger was not charged with sexual assault.

Ballou has worked with players like Doug Flutie, Terrell Owens, Hines Ward, Jerome Bettis and Dustin Pedroia, and it was the first time in 14 years that he ended a business partnership. Ballou would not disclose how much Roethlisberger earned annually from the deal, although he said it was not in six figures. According to Sports Illustrated’s “Fortunate 50” list of highly-paid athletes, Roethlisberger earned US$2.5 million in endorsements last year.

“I’m a father, and as a father I hope the lesson is learned by Ben,” Ballou said in a telephone interview. “I can’t imagine anyone touching Ben Roethlisberger. Enough is enough. I hope there is a suspension. At some point in time, Ben has got to put himself in the right position and understand what it means to be a celebrity, a quarterback, a Steelers player.”

The NFL and the Steelers are expected to review Roethlisberger’s case and decide on a punishment, perhaps a multigame suspension.

Roethlisberger’s lawyer, David Cornwell, who accompanied Roethlisberger to his meeting with Goodell, declined to comment on PLB Sports severing ties with Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger, his image tattered and his immediate playing future in doubt, apologized on Monday night in a statement he read from the Steelers’ locker room. Notably absent were top Steelers officials, who had stood beside Roethlisberger a year ago when he proclaimed his innocence after a woman claimed he raped her in 2008 at Lake Tahoe, Nevada. He was not charged in that case.

Nike pays Roethlisberger to use his image and in a statement on Tuesday, the company said he “continues to be part of Nike’s roster of athletes.”

But Ballou, as a Steelers fan and local businessman, might be more representative of the backlash Roethlisberger is likely to face when he returns next week to Pittsburgh for workouts.

Steelers fans are passionate and loyal to the team, not to any individual player, and Roethlisberger’s off-the-field behavior — including a motorcycle accident he had while not wearing a helmet — has rankled them. The Rooney family is said to be furious about the damage being done to an organization that those who work for it feel is bigger than any individual. The franchise takes pride in conducting itself with standards of conduct that coach Mike Tomlin said last month they believe are above and beyond those of their NFL peers.

Ralph Cindrich, a longtime NFL agent and sports consultant who lives in Pittsburgh, said fans he has heard from are angry with Roethlisberger.

“The longtime supporters have turned against him,” Cindrich said. “I’m not saying it can’t be repaired, but there is no room for the slightest error now. I think the major concern with the city is for the Rooney family. The city is not accustomed to hearing any bashing of them.”

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