Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was to meet with N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell Tuesday, one day after a Georgia district attorney said he would not bring sexual assault charges against Roethlisberger. But the quarterback is far from in the clear. He could be suspended either by the league or by the Steelers and the estimated $2.5 million he makes in endorsement money could dry up, too.
On Tuesday, Ty Ballou, the owner of Pittsburgh-based PLB Sports, Inc., said he is terminating his five-year business relationship with Roethlisberger. Ballou’s company, which was the maker of the famed Flutie Flakes, markets “Big Ben Beef Jerky.” Ballou, who did not disclose how much Roethlisberger was paid in the deal, said that after watching the district attorney’s news conference Monday, in which he laid out sordid details of Roethlisberger’s encounter with a 20-year-old college student, the decision was easy. In his company’s 14 years, Ballou has had many athlete endorsers — including Hines Ward, Jaromir Jagr, Ed McCaffrey and Dustin Pedroia –- and he said this is the first time he has terminated a deal.
“We’ve made a lot of money together,” Ballou said in a telephone interview. “I’m leaving a lot on the table by terminating this contract. Even thought there were no criminal charges, there are just enough issues here that it’s the best interests of PLB Sports to break ties.”
How upset is Ballou? He worked with Terrell Owens last year and said would be happy to, again.
“I can’t imagine anyone touching Ben Roethlisberger,” Ballou said. “Enough is enough. I hope there is a suspension. At some point in time, Ben has got to put himself in the right position and understand what it means to be a celebrity, a quarterback, a Steelers player.”
Roethlisberger also has a long-standing relationship with Nike, which did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. According to this Sports Illustrated list of the “Fortunate 50” athletes, Roethlisberger made $2.5 million of his total 2009 compensation of $15.3 million from endorsements.
Ballou is a Steelers fan –- who said he also applauded the team’s decision to trade troubled receiver Santonio Holmes to the Jets — and said he met with his board on Tuesday morning and all agreed that it was time to part ways with the quarterback. He faxed the termination agreement.
“You look at this and say ‘Do we want to do this? Yes,” he said. “We don’t want to, but you have to.”
But Ballou also touched on the reason that Roethlisberger might still be in big trouble with the N.F.L.
“The Steelers, there is probably no prouder organization,” he said. “I feel for them right now. Players are part of the Steelers brand. If it’s not the biggest in the league, it’s well up there. This has diminished the brand.”