Roethlisberger suspension reduced to 4 games
NEW YORK—Ben Roethlisberger is getting time off for good behavior.
He'll be back on the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers two games earlier than expected after convincing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell he is turning his life around.
The star quarterback, accompanied by team president Art Rooney, met with Goodell early Friday and was told he could return on Oct. 17 against Cleveland after missing four games.
He was suspended in April for six games for violating the league's personal conduct policy, but Goodell said at the time he would review the player's behavior over the next few months. Goodell was satisfied that Roethlisberger has followed the league's guidelines and stayed out of trouble.
"You have told me and the Steelers that you are committed to making better decisions," Goodell said in a letter to the two-time Super Bowl winner. "Your actions over the past several months have been consistent with that promise and you must continue to honor that commitment."
Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a Georgia college student following a night of drinking in a Milledgeville, Ga., bar on March 5. He was not charged by Georgia authorities.
The league said the "reinstatement is contingent on Roethlisberger continuing to adhere to the program established by our advisors and avoiding any further violations of the personal conduct policy."
Roethlisberger is the first player suspended by Goodell under the NFL's personal conduct policy who was not arrested, charged with or convicted of a crime. However, Goodell said in April the policy allows him to impose such a penalty when the league's integrity and reputation are at stake.
"I have learned a lot over the past several months about myself as a person," Roethlisberger said in a statement. "I am committed to continuing on this path of being the type of person my family raised me to be, and exceeding what is expected of me as the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers."
Rooney and Roethlisberger met with Goodell at an undisclosed location in New Jersey. Rooney and his organization have kept in frequent contact with the commissioner while Roethlisberger underwent extensive evaluations.
"Ben has done a good job this summer of growing as the person that he needs to be, both on and off the field," Rooney said. "I am confident that Ben is committed to continuing in this positive direction. As a team, our focus is now on preparing for the regular season and getting off to a good start on opening weekend."
Roethlisberger also is being sued in Nevada by a woman who says he sexually assaulted her there in 2008. No charges were brought in that case, and it did not figure in the NFL's suspension.
While he is out, Roethlisberger can't practice with the Steelers, nor can he attend games or represent the team in any way, or have contact with any member of the coaching staff or football operations personnel.
Considering the team's dire situation at his position, the reduced suspension was about the best news the Steelers could have received. Hours earlier, Roethlisberger's replacement, Byron Leftwich, hurt his left knee in the final preseason game.
Roethlisberger will be eligible to return to practice on Oct. 4 and play on Oct. 17 after Pittsburgh's bye week. Depending on the extent of Leftwich's injury, Pittsburgh could be down to Dennis Dixon and veteran Charlie Batch, and might need to add another quarterback.
Pittsburgh hosts Atlanta, plays at Tennessee and Tampa Bay and then hosts division rival Baltimore before an Oct. 10 bye.
Roethlisberger and Goodell met last month at the team's training camp in Latrobe, Pa. At that time, Goodell said he was encouraged by the progress Roethlisberger was making and promised to make his decision on the length of the suspension before the regular season began.
He kept his word; the season begins on Thursday.
Roethlisberger plans to work with a California-based quarterbacks coach, George Whitfield, and he'll throw to some free-agent receivers who are looking for work in the league.
AP Sports Writer Alan Robinson in Pittsburgh contributed to this story.