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April 23, 2010
Football Scores Relational Points in Roethlisberger Case

We delve into a sports situation, because sports can be a stand-in for society and good sports writing sometimes characterizes heroes and villains in PR terms -- like National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"Society is a wreck, and sports is no different," Stephen A. Smith begins his column in The Philadelphia Inquirer on the suspension of Roethlisberger for six games in an alleged sexual assault situation in Georgia. (Unfortunately The Inquirer has removed the column from its Web site apparently in the normal rotation of its published material so we can't link to it.)

"We should pause for a moment," he continues, "while contemplating the latest actions of the commissioner of the National Football League to express a sincere 'thank you' on behalf of all who care about law and order. Anywhere. For anyone. Even it it's at the expense of Mr. Ben Roethlisberger."

Roethlisberger was not only suspended but ordered to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation in a context in which Commissioner Goodell felt the Steelers' star was to prone to indulge in alcohol.

"As the district attorney concluded," the commissioner said in a statement, "the extensive investigatory record shows that you contributed to the irresponsible consumption of alcohol by purchasing (or facilitating the purchase of) alcoholic beverages for underaged college students, at least some of whom were likely already intoxicated.

"There is no question that the excessive consumption of alcohol that evening put the students and yourself at risk. The personal conduct policy also states that discipline is appropriate for conduct that 'undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players.' By any measure, your conduct satisfies that standard."

Commissioner Goodell was not deterred by the fact that Roethlisberger was not charged with a crime in the incident. What occurred was tainted by actions at the scene that would have made prosecution difficult. To which Smith writes, "Something needed to be done. A message needed to be sent."

The commissioner sent one, and the National Football League's commitment to proper off-the-field conduct by its players, however prominent, is decent PR in action. May some corporations in our troubled society do as well.

Photo of Ben Roethlisberger at a recent Steelers practice by Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press



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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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