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Will Deshaun Watson get a Ben Roethlisberger-style Punishment, or a Pass?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Will Deshaun Watson get a Ben Roethlisberger-style Punishment, or a Pass?

When rumors surfaced that the Pittsburgh Steelers were a desired destination for Deshaun Watson, the Steelers made it clear early they were not going to pursue the embattled but talented quarterback.

The 3x Pro Bowl quarterback has been one of the league’s best in terms of production since being drafted 12th overall by the Houston Texans in 2017, but hasn’t played since the 2020 season since being accused of sexual assault and sexual misconduct.  The Texans listed Watson as inactive for all of 2021, so he was still paid his full base salary of $10.5M.  On March 12, a Houston grand jury chose not to indict Watson on nine criminal complaints, kicking off a controversial bidding war for his services that ended with Watson receiving a 5-year, $230M fully guaranteed contract in a trade to the Cleveland Browns.

In 2010, Ben Roethlisberger embarrassed and angered the Steelers when he was accused of sexual assault  stemming from an incident on March 5 in a bar in Milledgeville, Georgia.

On April 12, Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney Fred Bright said Roethlisberger would not face criminal charges.  On April 21, Roger Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for 6 games, becoming the first player suspended under the NFL Personal Conduct Policy who was not arrested or charged with a crime.  In addition, Roethlisberger was ordered to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation, which barred him from attending any Steelers on-field, offseason activity (including training camp and preseason games) until he completed the evaluation and cleared by both the evaluators and Goodell.

Excerpt of letter from Goodell to Roethlisberger:

“I recognize that the allegations in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you. My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.”


The Steelers front office not only agreed with the suspension, they were prepared to impose sanctions as an organization.

Art Rooney II, per news services:

“I agree and support the decision the commissioner made today. I have made it clear to Ben that his conduct in this incident did not live up to our standards.  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.”


The suspension cost Roethlisberger $2.8M of his 2010 salary in addition to the NFL ordering the Steelers to remit a portion of his forfeited salary. In comparison, with a base salary of only $1M, a 6-game ban of Watson would be only $345K, which is only seven-tenths of one percent of his 2022 compensation.

Although Roethlisberger turned his life around, he never completely overcame the damage to his reputation following the allegation.  Watson’s future is uncertain, but it is disconcerting that he hasn’t faced nearly the same level of scrutiny, despite 22 civil charges outstanding, and the Browns  “protecting” him against forfeiting a significant amount if suspended.

It took nine days for the NFL to take formal action with Roethlisberger in 2010.  Watson officially signed with the Browns on March 20, so the questions are, will the inconsistent enforcement of punishment under Roger Goodell continue, or we he take swift and decisive punishment on Watson and if so, what will it look like?


Leave your thoughts below.


PMP; CSM; CSPO and host of the PMI-TB Agile Podcast. A lifelong Steelers fan, I had the chance of a lifetime when I was able to celebrate Super Bowl XLIII with the team. I love talking everything Steelers from the old days to the new and look forward to working with the team to grow this platform to be the premier Steelers site.

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