PITTSBURGH — A chastened Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger accepted his six-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy Monday and promised to "comply with what is asked of me – and more."
In his first comments since the NFL handed down the penalty last week, Roethlisberger apologized to his teammates and fans for his behavior last month in a Georgia bar, where a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexual assault.
"The commissioner's decision to suspend me speaks clearly that more is expected of me. I am accountable for the consequences of my actions. Though I have committed no crime, I regret that I have fallen short of the values instilled in me by my family," Roethlisberger said in the statement.
Roethlisberger was cleared of charges, but commissioner Roger Goodell cracked down on one of his biggest stars because "you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville (Ga.) that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league of the expectations of our fans."
The two-time Super Bowl winner said that while it will be "devastating" to miss games, "I will not appeal the suspension and will comply with what is asked of me – and more," he said.
"I am sorry to let down my teammates and the entire Steelers fan base. I am disappointed that I have reached this point and will not put myself in this situation again," Roethlisberger said. "I appreciate the opportunities that I have been given in my life and will make the necessary improvements."
Roethlisberger is the first player suspended by Goodell under the conduct policy who hasn't been arrested or charged with a crime. Goodell said the league's conduct policy gave him the right to impose discipline regardless of whether Roethlisberger broke the law.
"In your six years in the NFL, you have first thrilled and now disappointed a great many people," Goodell wrote. "I urge you to take full advantage of this opportunity to get your life and career back on track."
The suspension can be reduced to four games if Roethlisberger completes an evaluation mandated by the league, any action that is mandated by that evaluation and he remains out of trouble. He can practice during training camp and play in preseason games, but cannot return to game action until at least Oct. 17.
Until now, he has sat out only eight games in six seasons due to injury or to rest up for the playoffs.
Goodell also said he has the right to extend the suspension if he learns of any additional problems.
Roethlisberger was not available Monday for further comment. Because he cannot work out or train with his teammates until the league clears him after behavioral evaluations, he will not take part in the team's mandatory three-day minicamp this weekend.
Roethlisberger was cleared of charges because a prosecutor said the case was not strong enough to pursue, but the quarterback was rebuked by authorities, Goodell and Steelers president Art Rooney II. Georgia prosecutor Fred Bright was especially harsh, telling the quarterback, "Grow up ... cut it out. You can do better."
Roethlisberger also is being sued in a civil case in Nevada for an alleged sexual assault that occurred there in 2008. There were no charges brought in that case, and Rooney II said it did not factor in the NFL's suspension.
This is the second such apology by Roethlisberger in three weeks. He read a similar statement on April 12 when he learned he would not be charged.
In her statement to police, the underage college student said Roethlisberger encouraged her and her friends to take numerous shots of alcohol. She was later escorted down a hallway at the nightclub, where she said the quarterback exposed himself. She said she tried to leave and went to a bathroom, but Roethlisberger followed her.
"I still said no, this is not OK, and he then had sex with me," she wrote.
Rooney was so angry with Roethlisberger he wanted to suspend him before the league acted, but didn't do so because the NFL players union could have appealed to a special master. The Steelers have since taken their first tentative steps toward reconciliation: director of football operations Kevin Colbert said the quarterback "deserves the opportunity" to rehabilitate himself.