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Bad choices put Big Ben on hot seat

Mama always said nothing good can happen after midnight.

I can only assume that Ben Roethlisberger heard that before. He just wasn't listening.

The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback has been accused of sexual assault twice in the last nine months (and you thought Marshawn Lynch's repeated transgressions were bad).

The most recent allegation comes from a 20-year-old college student who claims Roethlisberger assaulted her in the bathroom of a late-night dance club in Milledgeville, Ga., earlier this month. A police investigation is ongoing.

Roethlisberger is already embroiled in lawsuit filed last summer by a Nevada woman, who claims he raped her in July 2008 at a Lake Tahoe resort where he was appearing in a celebrity golf tournament. Roethlisberger has vehemently proclaimed his innocence in both cases.

This is where I'm obligated to talk about the legal process running its course. It's my duty to point out a person is innocent until proven guilty and warn against rushing to judgment against someone who hasn't been charged in either case.

But no matter how Roethlisberger is viewed in the court of public opinion, one verdict is in: He is guilty of serial poor judgment.

Here's a guy who has it all -- youth, wealth and success -- and yet he risks throwing it all away because of bad decision-making. I don't know if the women are telling the truth, but the fact that he put himself in a position to be accused of wrongdoing shows he doesn't use his head off the field as well as he does on it.

No one is saying the 28-year-old Roethlisberger should be a monk. There is no law against a single guy hanging out with the boys and having a good time. But there are responsibilities that come with being a high-profile athlete.

By investing $102 million in him and making him the face of the franchise, the Steelers expect Roethlisberger to conduct himself properly in public by avoiding things that bring harm to the team and himself. He has failed to do that.

If you add Roethlisberger's helmet-less motorcycle accident in 2006, the sexual assault accusations are part of a disturbing pattern of bad choices.

With all the cautionary tales of athletes paying the price for self-destructive behavior (see Tiger Woods and Michael Vick), you would think others would be smart enough to avoid getting caught up in compromising situations. But too many think they are bulletproof. They arrogantly believe they're immune to the pitfalls of celebrity. Roethlisberger obviously is no different.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said at last week's NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., that he was worried about his quarterback. He should be.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is already being criticized for not meeting with Roethlisberger yet, especially after acting so swiftly when Vick and Pacman Jones ran afoul of the law. If Roethlisberger is charged, the commish will have no other choice but to deliver a stiff punishment. Anything less and he'll be accused of preferential treatment.

Even if Roethlisberger is exonerated, the damage to his reputation has been severe. I know that Kobe Bryant recovered from a sexual assault charge, but he didn't face multiple accusations.

Meanwhile, Roethlisberger will not attend the Steelers' offseason conditioning program because of the likely circus atmosphere his presence would create. It's unknown if he'll join the team for on-field organized team activities, which begin April 19. For now, the Steelers are just hoping he's available in September when the regular season starts.

As a player, Roethlisberger has displayed maturity beyond his years. But as a person, it's clear that he still has some growing up to do.

e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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