So now we know what booze, bad judgment and a bathroom encounter with a 20-year-old woman did for Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. In handing him a suspension of six games, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a powerful, undeniable message to the Steelers' star quarterback. Milledgeville (Ga.) district attorney Fred Bright may not have been able to make a case for a sexual assault charge against Roethlisberger. But Goodell had read and heard more than enough evidence to sting Big Ben for tarnishing the league's shiny shield.
For the record, the punishment is fair. Roethlisberger is a star -- he's easily one of the 10 most recognizable faces in the league -- and that means he should be held to a tougher standard. He's one of the players whom the NFL wants and needs to market, mainly because he's a 28-year-old quarterback with two Super Bowl wins on his résumé. A man with those credentials simply can't be linked to the kind of sketchiness that has dogged Roethlisberger for almost a year.
This is the kind of logic that most of the biggest names in the league understand and accept. Now it's time for Roethlisberger to get on board with this type of thinking as well. If he thought winning championships and playing in Pro Bowls gave him the freedom to play fast and loose with his reputation, then he was sadly mistaken. If anything, those accomplishments only meant he'd encounter more restrictions on his behavior as his career progressed.
We must assume that was one of the messages Goodell imparted to Roethlisberger when they met at NFL headquarters last week. With one scandalous night of barhopping in a small Georgia town, Roethlisberger put his career, image, team and league in a compromising place that defied explanation. Goodell couldn't react to such idiocy by diminishing it or pointing out that charges hadn't been filed. He had to respond with a message that made everybody understand such recklessness -- especially by someone of Roethlisberger's stature -- will never be tolerated.
It's not even fair to compare Roethlisberger's situation with that of Colts defensive tackle Eric Foster, who faces a civil lawsuit from a woman who claims he sexually assaulted her in an Indianapolis hotel room. Foster is an obscure player who doesn't have a reported history of such problems. Roethlisberger can create chaos just by walking into a room. Every bit of negative news he's made -- including his motorcycle accident and the civil lawsuit he faces from another woman accusing him of rape in 2008 -- has spurred conversation for sports fans across the nation.
There's little doubt that Goodell's ruling will have any less of an impact. Some people will say it is way too harsh for a player who hasn't been convicted or charged with a crime. Others will wonder about the damage it will do to the Steelers' season and whether Roethlisberger can abide by the requisite conditions to reduce it.
As for this writer, the suspension does exactly what it should do -- it tells us that NFL stars who mess up these days better beware the wrath of their commissioner.
Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.