PITTSBURGH — Willie Colon might re-think a future request from Ben Roethlisberger to join him for a night on the town.
Colon, who reportedly was with Roethlisberger for a sorry night in Georgia last month that led to the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback being accused of sexual assault by a 20-year-old college student there, noted that the club was informed before its initial Organized Team Activity (OTA) practice today that there is a “zero-tolerance” policy with regard to off-field misconduct.
“We were told early this morning that you either get in line or you get kicked out of line,” Colon said. “You are going to be traded or you’re not going to be here. If your conduct is going to play a part in you not being a good football player, they’re going to get rid of you.”
Neither Colon nor defensive end Aaron Smith, one of the team captains, would say who told them about the team’s stipulation. Even though charges were never filed against Roethlisberger in this or a previous incident, he is expected to be suspended possibly up to four games this coming season. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should announce the exact number this week.
“After what we’ve all seen go on, there’s not going to be much tolerance for anything like that around here,” Smith said. “For me, I just go about my business and do my job and let the people in charge worry about that other stuff. This team, since I’ve been here, has always been a close-knit group.
“We just want to focus on winning games. (But) I can imagine that things would be different, considering (the Steelers) have been in the news a lot lately. But that’s the way it goes. Teams go through this, but I’m sure we’ll get this turned back the right way. This is a great organization with great owners to work for, and I’m sure they’ll lead us where we need to go this season.”
While Roethlisberger would not comment to the media, his teammates all appeared to be glad to have their franchise quarterback back with the team and supported his efforts to rebuild his reputation while they tried to build a championship team.
Two key defensive components for the Steelers to be Super Bowl contenders are a healthy Smith and safety Troy Polamalu, who both missed the bulk of last season with shoulder and knee injuries, respectively. Roethlisberger, obviously, is just as crucial to the Steelers’ offense. When Polamalu heard about his quarterback’s situation, he didn’t believe it was the Roethlisberger he knew.
“They don’t jibe at all, (because) we know him on a different level,” Polamalu said. “If Ben has shown anything (over the years), it’s been that he’s shown that he’s been able to recover whenever he’s been faced with adversity.
“And, I think regarding the situation that he’s going through currently, I think that will be a great example. Everything isn’t always peachy, and not everyone has an unblemished image. But, I think for him, that repentance (and) the way that he’s going to have to lead his life is going to be a great example.”
Polamalu noted that the Steelers primarily are a close-knit team that has supported its members through thick and thin.
“One thing we’ve done as a team is stay pretty close and support one another in things like what Ben’s going through and what Aaron Smith went through (his son’s illness),” Polamalu added.
“And I think that’s been the key to our success on the field, so I can’t imagine this being any different in that regard. (But) our personal issues usually have stayed that way, so I really can’t imagine it being a distraction at all.”
Smith is another homebody, like Polamalu, a deeply spiritual and family man. So, that’s quite a departure from a bachelor like Roethlisberger.
“He’s a fun guy, who likes to joke around and have fun, and I’ve never had any problems with him,” Smith said. “He’s just a fun guy, kind of a like a big kid, hanging out. (But) you really don’t know what goes on out there. I haven’t had time to be concerned with things like that so far, but we want him here.
“Wouldn’t you? He’s a great quarterback, and he wins football games. And that’s what we’re in the business of doing, winning games. But today is the first day that I’ve seen him, so I don’t know if it has affected him or how it will affect anyone else here. But I wouldn’t think that it would.”
Antwaan Randle El, who helped the Steelers win Super Bowl XL with a touchdown pass off a reverse, was re-acquired as a free-agent signing from the Washington Redskins during the offseason. He noted that the only way this could be a distraction was if the Steelers let it become one.
“When you’re in the NFL … or any other sport or company, when there are issues you have to address it,” Randle El said. “But we want to deal with it and them move on. You hope you never have to deal with it again after that, but you deal with it now and move on. If you didn’t know Ben like we do, you would go by what you see on TV and what you hear.
“But we know him on a personal level, when he first came into the league and how he has progressed and grown. … The bottom line is that we’re all people, and we all can make mistakes. But you have to be able to learn from them and move on from there. We understand that things happen in life, but you need to have forgiveness and move on from there.”
The Steelers will move on to a second OTA practice at 10:15 a.m. Tuesday and then take a break for the annual NFL Draft Thursday through Saturday.