Six months after Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games for violating the National Football League's personal conduct policy, he is back on the field. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reduced the suspension to four games last month, allowing Roethlisberger to return to practice this week.
Ben Roethlisberger seemed to have everything going for him. During the past several seasons, he has become one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks. With a strong, accurate arm, Roethlisberger, in 2006, became the youngest quarterback ever - at age 23 - to lead a team to a Super Bowl title. He led the Steelers to another Super Bowl championship in 2009.
But Roethlisberger has had a history of trouble.
In June 2006, the Pittsburgh signal-caller was seriously injured in a motorcycle crash. He needed seven hours of surgery to repair a broken jaw and nose. But he was cited by police for driving without a permit and a helmet.
Earlier this year, Roethisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old Georgia college student in the restroom of a bar. No criminal charges were filed because of a lack of DNA evidence.
It was the second sexual-assault accusation against the quarterback in nine months. In 2008, a woman accused Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting her in a Nevada hotel room. He did not face legal or NFL disciplinary action, but the woman has filed a civil lawsuit against him.
In April, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended the 28-year-old Pittsburgh quarterback for six games. Along with the suspension, he ordered Roethlisberger to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation.
The decision to reduce Roethlisberger's suspension means he will be eligible to return to play on October 17 against the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers have gone 3 and 1 without their starting quarterback in the line-up. Roethlisbeger says it was difficult to watch the games on television.
"To watch them at home, I was on the edge of my chair, trying to keep busy, watching, standing up, sitting down," said Roethlisberger. "So it was tough, but it was fun watching them win."
Ben Roethlisberger was not allowed to work out with the team during his suspension, but he says he is prepared to return.
"I worked out for 2 - 2 ½ hours longer than I would be if I was here practicing [with the team] and I threw more balls than I would if I was here [at practice]," he said. "[I] just really stayed focused with George, my quarterback coach, and working on footwork, techniques, throwing, things like that."
On Monday, Roethlisberger was allowed to return to practice with his team. On the day he got back, he said he was thrilled.
"Obviously, I love football and I missed that more than anything," he said. "But to be away from my guys - my brothers - my family, that was one of the hardest parts. And that's what made coming here today so great. I think every single one of the guys came and gave me a big hug and I was just so happy to see them."
But the Steelers quarterback admits he is not sure what kind of reception he will get from the fans in his first game after his suspension.
"I have no idea," admitted Roethlisberger. "I have been, you know, when I see people out in public, it's been a lot of warm embraces. A lot of 'Can't wait to get us back,' 'Keep your head up.' So there's been a lot of very positive feedback from the fans, so I would hope there's going be some encouraging cheers and some good things."
Roethlisberger's agent, Ryan Tollner, says his client has been humbled by the experience and that he will return as "a better person." But has Ben Roethlisberger really changed? That question can be answered only by time.