UPDATED: Dan Rooney mea culpa

March 20, 2008

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Post-Gazette columnist Bob Smizik weighs in on the Steelers decision to release WR Cedric Wilson in the wake of allegations he punched the mother of his child at a restaurant in the North Hills:

Dan Rooney, a quiet man who likes to avoid controversy, opened himself up for world-wide criticism late this morning when he undelicately addressed an extremely delicate subject: physical abuse of women by their husbands or boyfriends.

In a late-morning news briefing with reporters, Rooney, the owner of the Steelers and a highly influential man in the NFL, was trying to explain why the Steelers today released wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, who was arrested yesterday for punching his girlfriend, and why they did not release linebacker James Harrison, who was arrested March 8 for slapping his girlfriend.

Although the only apparent differences in the case is that Harrison used an open hand and Wilson did not, Rooney used words that seemed to condone Harrison's actions.

By mid-afternoon he was stressing to reporters he meant nothing of the kind, but only that there were some differences in the two incidents.

Rooney got himself in trouble in the morning. After first saying "the Steelers do not condone violence of any kind, especially against women," he so much as gave Harrison a free pass.

Here's what he said:

"I know many are asking the question of [why] we released Wilson and Harrison we kept. 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 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."

Rooney seemed to be suggesting that good intentions are an excuse for hitting a woman.

Some five hours later, when the full implication of what he said hit home, he reacted to stem what could be world-wide condemnation with another statement.

He stressed that in both instances the players were wrong, but the circumstances surrounding them were different.

In a phone conversation, he said, "Harrison came to see me and the coach [Mike Tomlin] and apologized the morning after it happened. He said he made a mistake and was committed to doing everything he could to rectify it. He took responsibility. He agreed to anger management classes and is taking them."

Rooney said that Harrison had no intent to harm his girlfriend when he went to her house to pick up his son. "The situation angered him. He didn't go there with intent."

The Wilson case, Rooney said, was different. "He knew what he was doing. He knew where his [former] girlfriend was and went to the bar looking for her. When he got there he punched her. That's different and I understand he expressed no regret."

Dan Rooney is a decent and honorable man. We'll take him at his word that he didn't mean what he actually said. As is well known by the people who cover him regularly, he sometimes has trouble properly expressing himself.

Whether Rooney's clarification will appease people angered by his comments remains to be seen.

The Steelers still have some explaining to do in terms of why they kept Harrison, a starting linebacker and Pro Bowl player, and cut Wilson, a backup wide receiver.

It comes across as a double standard. They need to issue a more coherent explanation for what they've done.

What are your thoughts about how the Steelers handled the situation? Email us at steelersnation@post-gazette.com and we'll update Blog 'N' Gold throughout the day with your thoughts. As always please include your name and where your writing from.


• Maybe I follow the Steelers too much; I visit the PG just about everyday. When I read the comments from Dan Rooney early this morning I understood what he was saying, and did not take it that he was condoning the actions of James Harrison, but that Mr. Harrison had an argument and over reacted. I guess from having read previous coverage I was able to piece all the details together. I also understand how someone could misconstrue Mr. Rooney's comments about the Mr. Harrison incident.

As for release Mr. Wilson, I believe it was the proper thing. From the coverage in the PG it sounds like it was a rocky relationship. It also sounds like Mr. Wilson sought out the mother of his child with the intention of inflicting harm, a premeditated act. -- Paul Thompson, Mount Airy, MD

• I am very disappointed to see that Bob Smizik's original strong, clear, and explicit denunciation of Dan Rooney's comments, which my blog feedback referred to, has been bowdlerized into a mild criticism. Regardless of Mr. Rooney's so-called "mea culpa"--in fact, there was nothing in the quoted statement of an apology, only a weak and inadequate attempt to explain and justify what he had said earlier--I see no reason why Mr. Smizik's earlier statement should have been changed, rather than simply added to with Mr. Rooney's response. I don't know whether this was an editorial decision or one made by Mr. Smizik, but in either case I find it unworthy of Mr. Smizik as well as the Post-Gazette as a whole. -- Allan Zuckoff, Forest Hills

• I agree 100% with Bob Smizik's post on Dan Rooney's comments on the release of Cedric Wilson and not James Harrison. I read the comments with disbelief and disgust. There is no justification for violence against women and his triangulation of the Steelers' decision smacks of hypocrisy. The Rooney's should retract their statements immediately - they make the entire organization look terrible. -- Lesley Sillaman, Churchill

• Agree with your assertions 100%, Bob. I think the Steelers made a huge error by not having Art Rooney be the person to address the media and give an official statement. This is a delicate thing to say, but it's the 800-pound gorilla in the room: Dan Rooney has not exactly seemed the Dan Rooney of old lately, if you get what I mean. I thought the same thing when he spoke at the occasion of Ben's contract extension.

It seems as though what Mr. Rooney meant to say is that James Harrison was apparently trying to take his child out of town to be baptized, and James' girlfriend didn't want him to do it. They got into an altercation, and James hit her in the heat of the moment. There could well be much more to the story about which none of us are aware. Based solely on what Mr. Rooney said, we can only conclude that James' desire to take part in a religious ritual somehow excuses away the fact that he treated his girlfriend in a violent and abusive way. That doesn't wash with me (and probably not with the vast majority of Steelers fans, either), any way, any how. I don't think it's what he meant to say, but as mentioned before, I'm not sure if Mr. Rooney himself knew what he meant to say.

If Art had simply made a statement something like "we handle player issues on a case by case basis, and we are waiting for the legal process to play itself out with James. Additionally, we handle these matters privately in-house and will have no further comment," in addition to "the Steelers do not in any way condone violence, etc.", there would be no furor over this. As much as I hate to say it, maybe it's time for the Steelers to think about who should make all official statements going forward. -- Lisa Hindmarsh, Newfoundland, N.J.

• I, absolutely, agree with Bob Smizik's take on the Dan Rooney comments. It's not just plain wrong. It's completely disgusting to think that someone would excuse (because he wanted a child baptized?) the actions of James Harrison, who, according to one article, broke through a closed and locked bathroom door to break the woman's cell phone in half and then strike her in the face. I've never had to say this in my life but, as of now, I'm ashamed to call myself a Steelers' fan. The Rooney(s) have always been consider the class of the NFL and it would be a shame if the words he spoke were truly the way he felt. -- Robert Fisher II, Morgantown, W.Va.

• They both should go. Really disappointed in Rooney's answer ... okay to hit if it is a good reason ... -- Judy Bowlus

• I would like to echo and affirm every word of Bob Smizik's post on Dan Rooney's shocking and appalling comments and add just one more thought: it appears that Mr. Rooney viewed Mr. Harrison's wish to have his son baptized as so self-evidently virtuous that it outweigh the child's mother's wishes in this matter. Without knowing anything about this woman's religious beliefs, I can only say (and I find it hard to believe that I actually have to say it) that she would have every right to prefer that her child not be baptized, and that if this were the case, Mr. Harrison would have absolutely no right to overrule this decision with or without the use of violence against her. Mr. Rooney owes the public, and Mr. Harrison's girlfriend, much more than an apology. He should resign his position and retire in disgrace.-- Allan Zuckoff, Forest Hills

• Bob, I absolutely agree with you. As soon as I read what Dan Rooney said, I thought 'so he's saying that it depends on the circumstance of WHY one of his players strikes a woman that determines whether he is released or not?' Much to my dismay, my respect and enthusiasm for this organization, its players, and professional sports seems to be dwindling more and more as time goes on. -- Christine Commella, Pittsburgh


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