Rooney said Thursday that Roethlisberger told him he is prepared to accept disciplinary action. The Steelers likely would have acted by now, but Rooney said the NFL's labor agreement makes that difficult.
Rooney expects NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to spend several weeks reviewing the accusations that Roethlisberger sexually assaulted a 20-year-old college student in the bathroom of a Georgia nightclub in March. Prosecutors in Milledgeville, Ga., announced on Monday that the quarterback won't be charged in the case. The NFL and the Steelers probably won't settle on any punishment until after next week's three-day draft.
"When we get to the point where we have agreed with the commissioner on what that action will be, that's when it will be imposed," Rooney said during his first news conference concerning the Roethlisberger case. "After imposing an appropriate level of discipline and outlining the steps we feel will be necessary to be successful as a player and a person, we intend to allow Ben the opportunity to prove to us he is the teammate and citizen we all believe he is capable of being."
Sparked partly by the Roethlisberger incident, Goodell sent a memo last week to NFL owners, executives and head coaches emphasizing the necessity of following the league's personal conduct policy. According to the memo, which was first reported by the New York Times, escaping criminal charges is not enough to excuse poor behavior.
"Unfortunately, in recent weeks there have been several negative incidents," the memo stated. "These incidents include subjects that we have previously identified as particularly troublesome, such as alcohol-related offenses, allegations of violence against women, and weapons offenses. ... The policy makes clear that NFL and club personnel must do more than simply avoid criminal behavior. We must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, that promotes the values upon which the league is based, and is lawful."
The Roethlisberger case has been unsettling to the Steelers, regardless of the lack of criminal charges, and Rooney did not hide his displeasure.
"I have made it clear to Ben that his conduct in this incident did not live up to our standards," Rooney said. "We have made it very clear to Ben that there will be consequence for his actions, and Ben has indicated to us he is willing to accept those consequences."
Rooney said the Steelers' image and Roethlisberger's have been equally damaged because of the incident.
"It's a situation that he's going to have to work hard to rehabilitate his image that, no question, has taken a hit," Rooney said. "It's a long journey back and he's going to have to be up to the challenge."
Roethlisberger began taking part in the team's off-field conditioning work on Tuesday, but only after several long conversations with an unhappy Rooney. The quarterback also is expected to participate in the start of offseason practice next week.
"We allowed Ben to do this after we were convinced that he was sincerely contrite for his past behavior, as well as having Ben's assurance that he is firmly committed to working hard every day to regain the trust and respect of this organization," Rooney said.
While Roethlisberger remains involved in a civil suit alleging he sexually assaulted a Nevada hotel employee, Rooney said the disciplinary action is the result of the Georgia case.
Also, Rooney said the Steelers decided to trade former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes because of "multiple violations of league policies, and additional off-the-field problems." Holmes was dealt to the Jets for a fifth-round draft pick only 15 months after he made the game-winning catch of a Roethlisberger pass in the closing seconds of the Super Bowl against Arizona.