ESPN had taken the stance that they don't report on civil lawsuits, only criminal, and for the most part....they've stuck to that. Two years ago, the "Leader" didn't report on Randy Moss' alleged "dating violence" case, until a restraining order was filed.
As far as Roethlisberger goes, ESPN's Bill Hofheimer had this to say to PFT today, "Based on the sensitive nature of the story and other factors we mentioned, we initially exercised caution and did not report it. Since then, we've been observing how the story has progressed, monitoring other news outlets, and doing our own reporting. We decided to report the story tonight."
Obviously, it's a tough spot to be in, but there are ways to handle it without upsetting the people involved. As long as you report it as "alleged", and add that authorities don't plan on looking into it, you've got your bases covered. If they had just done that days ago, none of this would have been an issue.
In the end, I don't think ESPN entirely "swept this under the rug", but they have to understand that it will (and can) be perceived that way. It's also amazing that the web can now force ESPN's hand, when it comes to matters like these.
Update: Ben will speak on the lawsuit at 2pm, but won't be taking any questions. You can bet ESPN will air the press conference live.
ESPN explains position on Roethlisberger (PFT)
Authorities won't look at Roethlisberger (ESPN)