In Part I of this three-part series, I felt it was important to share the distinctions between how I perceived the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise as a child, and to contrast that with my views as an adult. Simply put, the Pittsburgh Steelers have ceased to be the small-time mom and pop operation that captured the nation’s imagination in the 1970’s. Today, they remain a family-owned dynasty (in part), but that family also owns significant pieces of multi-billion dollar gambling entities in the states of New York and Florida. The Rooney family, then, is a bit more like the fabled Ewings of the Dallas television series than they are like the Waltons.
J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman, picture above at right) would never trade Ben Roethlisberger, but Bobby Ewing would be conflicted (Patrick Duffy, pictured above at left). Put more bluntly, J.R. would not part with a productive rapist and alcoholic as long as the contributions to the bottom line kept him in the black — assuming of course that the asset was not, himself, Black. Business is business is business. Bobby, on the other hand, always seeking the approval of his father (even after his father’s death) would be torn up by the decision, but would eventually give in to the dictates of his elder brother.
So it is in Pittsburgh.
A Texas-sized Tempest in the Teapot
The moralizing and gnashing of teeth that is on display in Western Pennsylvania is enough to make an addict give up on a sure thing in the afternoon race at the Yonkers Raceway. While Dan Rooney, the architect of championship Steelers football, is enjoined in another battle (serving as United States Ambassador to Ireland), his son, Art II (named after the family patriarch) has been tasked with managing the team and he is conflicted. Junior, you see, is an attorney by training and disposition. Dan is a hustler — just like the Chief. Dan parlayed a B.A. in accounting into a $5 billion empire (with a great deal of family help) and a six-time Super Bowl champion. Dan outdid the Chief by a mile — and this is his empire.
In the 1960’s, Dan was building the foundation of a Super Bowl champion by learning the ropes of NFL personnel evaluation, identifying Chuck Noll as a replacement candidate for Joe Paterno, his son was making good on the promise of the third generation. Art II, born in 1952, was focusing on his academics and football. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1978 and completed his juris doctor at Duquesne University in 1982. But, before he did that, he worked with Noll and Nunn on the historic 1974 draft that brought in Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster.
Times have changed and something is amiss. Art II has become the twisted moral center of the Steelers franchise as the incidents surrounding an elite wide receiver and an elite quarterback have flipped the script. Art has made the public statements of moral outrage. Art has said the team is prepared to impose punishment, but will allow the league to impose sanctions as a means to avert a dispute by the NFL Player’s Association. The son of the founder of championship Steelers football is out of the shadows…or is he?
A Little of This and a Lot of That
“I would also like to address the Santonio Holmes trade to the New York Jets. Trading players or releasing players is never an easy decision. We have to take into account a number of factors.
“First and foremost, we must evaluate if that player is truly committed to trying to live up to the standards we expect. And, on occasion, when a player makes a mistake, we have to evaluate whether the player is committed to taking the required steps to improve in the future.
“As you can imagine, to keep our commitment to our fans to consistently put the best possible team on the field, we must also evaluate a player’s likely contribution both in short term and the long term.
“Clearly, Santonio is a very talented football player. But his multiple violations of League policies and the additional off-the-field problems lead us to conclude that it would be in the best interest of our organization to part ways.
“I wish Santonio all the best and I hope he is able to do what is necessary to be successful both on and off the field.”
This explanation simply does not make much sense. It smacks of the same legalese that draws the ire of public in all walks of life where lawyers dare to tread. In a city where fans are used to opponents getting smacked by the ferocious hits of LaMarr Woodley or Ryan Clark, this simply doesn’t pass the smell test. Pittsburgh-area fans have blitzed the team and media outlets with concerns that the team has crossed its own ethical line by setting different standards for different players.
It is a given that a quarterback with a $100 million contract and a wide receiver with an expiring contract (and facing a four game suspension) simply cannot be held to the same standards when it comes to their contracts. One is more contractually valuable than the other. That’s what Art Rooney II should have said. He didn’t.
Instead, he tried to bullshit Steeler Nation and the public with a duplicitous statement about what is going on in Pittsburgh. If Holmes was dismissed because of ethics, any player with comparable or greater transgressions should meet a similar fate. Since the Steelers did not demand more than a 5th round pick in compensation (contrasted with the decision to retain Holmes for the season and obtain nothing at the conclusion of the season), this could NOT have been a mere football decision.
Santonio Holmes had a little marijuana and a little fracas in a club. For that, the team parted ways with a Super Bowl MVP and received as much in return as did the Miami Dolphins in trading a notorious bust to the San Francisco 49ers.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, for all of his success between the lines, has had a lot of trouble transitioning from the bright lights of the stadium to the dim lights in the bar.
Echoes of Petulance
Did Art Rooney, II trade Santonio Holmes as a show of defiance against dad’s position that Roethlisberger not be traded?
Did Art Rooney, II authorize Steelers GM Kevin Colbert to accept the bargain basement asking price of a 5th round draft pick for a player worth a great deal more?
Does Art really expect to be taken seriously when he suggests (as he has by his actions) that Ben Roethlisberger is more willing than Santonio Holmes to walk a righteous path? Who is he kidding? Does he think he’s in the casino and we’re all dupes headed for one of those slot machines?
The Die Should Have Been Cast When…
…Ben Roethlisberger stood alone in the Steelers locker room to meet the press following the announcement he would not face charges based on his convoluted night of sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, and guns for hire at a Georgia bar. Did anyone take a close look at the man who showed up for that press conference?
Who is this guy?
And, is he related to this guy?
I suspect that Roethlisberger got a phone call from someone who doesn’t “style” hair in Findlay, Ohio. When he went to meet NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, he looked much more like someone who had received instruction on how not to mess with other people’s money. He looked a little like this:
Now, who is the real Ben Roethlisberger?
- The young guy who tells Bill Cowher, “Kiss my ass. Helmets are for girls.”
- The young guy who tells Terry Bradshaw, “Kiss my ass. You’re next.”
- The accused rapist who emerged unfazed from the prospect of a civil suit in Nevada.
- The accused rapist who emerged unscathed from the prospect of a criminal trial in Georgia.
- The guy who can find a barbershop before a big meeting, but really prefers to let it all hang out, just before a suicidal leap forsaking family, friends, and duty.
- All of the above.
When Art Rooney II decided to dispatch Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets, he decided that Ben Roethlisberger was none of the above…or was it really J.R. Ewing?
For Dan Rooney, business demands that Roethlisberger stay. Business never demanded that Santonio Holmes leave – even with him facing the prospect of a four-game suspension and a year-long ban for subsequent violations. The risk prospects of retaining a 79 catch, 1200 yard receiver with non-violent issues and a penchant for the chronic (Legalize It!) seem to vanish in comparision to the reward prospect of a viable 5th round selection by trade.
I do not believed that Santonio Holmes was jettisoned because he is Black. It is not clear that he would have remained on the roster if he were white, but it is a “fair” question. Teams that have the Steelers track record on race are difficult to accuse of acting in so naked a manner. Nonetheless, I know with 100% certainty that if Ben Roethlisberger were Black, he’d be in a locked cell hoping that his attorneys could secure his release under bond. No Black man could escape the fell clutches of the Georgia state justice system under these conditions, nor could he have escaped the media scrutiny that was visited upon the likes of Michael Vick and others. Women’s advocacy groups and advocates for campus justice have been alarmingly silent and their actions will diminish our hearing the next time the alarm is rung.
I do believe that Holmes was used as a pawn in a larger game. The Steelers are, now, alleged to have a zero-tolerance policy for misconduct. I don’t believe that. It certainly applies to 90 percent of the roster, but not all players. It doesn’t apply to Troy Polamalu; but it doesn’t need to. For the first time in four decades, the Pittsburgh Steelers made a trade that was bereft of business logic — and it was made within days of a non-decision that should have demanded the same ethical excision. If Roethlisberger didn’t get the message when his partner and favorite big target Plaxico Burress was let go by the team, why should he get the message now?
And if he doesn’t get the message now, what will have been the value in trading Holmes? Perhaps Art believes that both players should have been moved; that a franchise who could reach the Super Bowl with Neil O’Donnell could do about as well with young Dennis Dixon. It is hard for me to believe that there was a united front when Holmes was traded. Absent a compelling football or business or ethical reason, I am left to conclude that his trade was intended to precipitate another action — and that has yet to transpire. If Roethlisberger gets moved, we may eventually know the trade discussion on Holmes went down, but the Steelers QB will not be traded until Art gets very clear on who Ben Roethlisberger is and is not.
Right now, he is conflicted.
Resident Evil or Village Idiot
Traveling through the blogosphere and national publications, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of comments on this situation assert that Ben Roethlisberger’s primary “crime” is one of stupidity. At this, I am incredulous. I’ve known many stupid people in my day and I would not, could not, dare not characterize a single one of them (even potentially) as a serial rapist. Yet, this is precisely what we are left to confront in the curious case of Ben pushing all the wrong buttons.
He has not faced a single criminal charge. He is innocent until proven guilty. I truly believe that, but it is also beside the point. In the court of public opinion and of codes of conduct, he is as guilty as sin. His actions have led to the perception that he is far more than stupid…that he is calculating and possessed of a singular drive to impose his will. These talents are easily discernible on the field, but in the realm of social engagement, pundits have become deaf, blind, and mute.
Is Ben Roethlisberger the village idiot (Wrestler-style haircut notwithstanding)?
I think not. It just may be that he is the Resident Evil. Perhaps he is the one who feels entitled to do as he pleases with whom he pleases. Perhaps this same mindset allows him to drag law enforcement officers into his web of deception. Perhaps it is the same mindset that allowed him to dismiss Bill Cowher.
Seduction: A Secret Among Men
There are times in the lives of men when they become captivated or seduced by other men. Sometimes it is the spoken word of a gifted orator (think Adolf Hitler) or feats of daring (think of the Tuskegee Airmen) or prowess with the opposite sex. Sometimes it is the vitality of youth that can cause men to drop their guard and disregard the best of their traditions. Innovation and scandal can often emanate from the same source.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the on-field decision to retain offensive coordinator Bruce Arians (at the request of Ben Roethlisberger) and draft a big receiving target (2008 second round pick Limas Sweed) are just two instances where men with great knowledge steeped in the smash mouth traditions of this team have bent, shifted and modified what were once steely positions forged in the hard, cruel Decembers of Western Pennsylvania and Ohio. Steeler Nation despises Arians at least as much as they despise Sweed. Whether the topic is offensive predicatability or dropped passes, Arians and Sweed (the objects of Ben’s affection) are also targets on local dart boards.
Off the field, it is now alleged by no less than two women (and two more if you believe anecdotes making their way around the web), the consequences of saying no to Ben Roethlisberger are catastrophic. On the field, catastrophe is too strong a word, but when a team loses to division rivals because passes are dropped, rosters change, people get fired, families relocate, and change is in the air. At some point, the Steelers may have to reclaim their identity and impose their will on the wild young man with the bad hair from Findlay.
The next incident will surely be catastrophic for someone. The Steelers appear not to have learned that the sins of the father are often visited upon the son. If Art’s move to dismiss Santonio Holmes was a pre-emptive strike to illicit the favor of the gods, he may well be the most surprised when the gods strike back.