Pittsburgh Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney has always been considered a class act. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, Rooney was the architect behind the so-called "Rooney Rule," mandating that NFL teams interview minority candidates during coaching searches. And thus this past week's behavior and comments from the Steelers and Rooney is made all the more surprising.
On March 8th Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison was charged with assaulting his girlfriend. According to the police reports, he broke down her door, broke her cell-phone in half as she attempted to dial 911, and then hit her in the face. He remains a member of the Steelers.
Early Thursday morning Steelers wide receiver Cedrick Wilson committed a similar act, pushing and then punching his girlfriend in the face. Later that day he was cut by the team.
There is an easy rationale for this discrepancy. Harrison is arguably the best defensive player on the Steelers - his 98 tackles and 8.5 sacks exemplify that. On the other hand, Wilson was merely a role-player. Thus, it would be easy to make an example out of him. Yet that wasn't the case. You see, Rooney was able to draw a distinction between what is seemingly two similar crimes.
Coming from a man with such an honorable history, Rooney's comments were incredibly ill-advised and foolish. Is there ever a reason to distinguish between domestic violence? Hitting your girlfriend is still hitting your girlfriend whether or not you at one point had some good intentions. Once Harrison hit his girlfriend, it no longer mattered what he initially wanted to take his son to do. The fact that Rooney couldn't see that is puzzling, and he should know better. And thus a man who has done so many positive things throughout his career has given his legacy a black eye.
"I know many are asking the question of [why] we released Wilson and Harrison we kept,'' he said. "The circumstances -- I know of the incidents, they are completely different. In fact, when I say we don't condone these things, we don't, but we do have to look at the circumstances that are involved with other players and things like that, so they're not all the same."
"What Jimmy Harrison was doing and how the incident occurred, what he was trying to do was really well worth it," he said of Mr. Harrison's initial intent with his son. "He was doing something that was good, wanted to take his son to get baptized where he lived and things like that. She said she didn't want to do it."