Broncos safety T.J. Ward suspended for opener


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DENVER (AP) — Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward said the NFL is unfairly punishing him over a nightclub incident that happened more than 15 months ago, one in which criminal charges were ultimately dropped.

Ward was suspended Thursday for Denver's opener against Baltimore on Sept. 13.

Ward said in a statement released by the team that he'd accept his penalty and apologized for his actions. But he struck a defiant tone after the Broncos' preseason finale against Arizona.

"I feel it's really unfair," Ward said in the locker room. "I'm getting punished for being accused of doing something, not for doing something but being accused, and I've got to pay the consequences for it. And I just don't feel the whole process is very fair."

Ward was initially charged with misdemeanor assault and disturbing the peace for allegedly throwing a glass mug at a female bartender at a Denver strip club in May 2014.

According to court documents, Ward was seen on video surveillance picking up the mug from the bar and throwing it after being told he couldn't bring a drink into the club. The incident came shortly after Ward signed a four-year, $22.5 million deal in Denver.

In a statement distributed by the Broncos before the game, Ward was quoted as saying, "I take full responsibility for the incident that occurred in May 2014 and am willing to accept the consequences of my actions by serving my one-game suspension. Although I was never arrested and all charges against me were ultimately dismissed, I have no one to blame but myself for being in the predicament that evening."

Ward added an apology to the organization, owner Pat Bowlen's family and Broncos fans.

"I have learned from my mistakes and will continue to be a pillar in the community to make myself a stronger person and player for the Denver Broncos," he said in the statement.

Ward is the second Denver defender to get suspended. Derek Wolfe received a four-game ban for violating the NFL's drug policy. They'll be banned from the Broncos' headquarters starting Sunday.

"I was very shocked when I first heard there may be a suspension because the incident happened a year ago. I've played a full season and now it's the following season," Ward said.

Ward was excused from practice a couple of weeks ago when he had an appeals hearing in the case. He said he learned Thursday his suspension had been upheld.

So did coach Gary Kubiak, who found out when he got to the stadium.

"You don't like starting the afternoon that way," Kubiak said. "It's disappointing, but he's accepted responsibility for it. Obviously, he's a tough player to lose. But we understand our situation with him. We understand our situation with Derek. And we've got to have guys step in and our chin up and ready to go opening week."

David Bruton Jr., the longest-tenured active player on Denver's roster, will fill in for Ward in the base defense against the Ravens, although Bradley Roby will likely play the position on some passing downs.

Ward said he wasn't sure why the NFL took so long to mete out its punishment, but guessed "maybe they were busy with the Tom Brady and that federal hearing, but I'm not exactly sure."

Brady's four-game suspension in the New England Patriots' "Deflategate" investigation was thrown out by a federal judge Thursday.

"That case is completely separate from mine," said Ward, adding he doesn't have enough time to pursue further legal challenges to his suspension.

"I put myself in that predicament, so I take full responsibility," he said. "But I did nothing wrong in the case."

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