Rooney's rationale in abuse cases leads to criticism

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A day that started with the release of Steelers wide receiver Cedrick Wilson after he was charged with assaulting his former girlfriend Wednesday night ended yesterday amid a series of statements by team chairman Dan Rooney to address what appeared to be a double standard in dealing with players involved in off-field domestic disputes.

Mr. Wilson became the second player in 11 days to be charged in a domestic dispute with a woman. On March 8, Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison also was charged in an incident involving his girlfriend.

Mr. Harrison is still with the Steelers.

Mr. Wilson was arraigned on charges of simple assault, harassment and disorderly conduct after punching his former girlfriend, Lindsey A. Paulat, 26, of Fawn, in the bar area at Patron's Restaurant near Route 910 and Perry Highway in Pine about 8 p.m. Wednesday. Her attorney, Michael DeRiso, said she was with a female friend.

On March 8, Mr. Harrison was charged with assaulting his girlfriend, Beth Tibbott, in her Ohio Township home. According to a police affidavit, Mr. Harrison broke down a door, broke Ms. Tibbott's cell phone in half as she attempted to call 911, then slapped her face with an open hand, knocking off her glasses. He was charged with simple assault and criminal mischief and faces an April 3 preliminary hearing before a district judge in Bellevue.

When Mr. Rooney was asked by reporters yesterday morning why Mr. Wilson was released immediately and Mr. Harrison kept on the team, he said the cases were different.

"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."

In Mr. Harrison's case, Mr. Rooney said the player was trying to take his son to be baptized.

"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."

After being told of the comment, Shirl Regan, director of the Women's Center and Shelter of Pittsburgh, said she was dumbfounded by Mr. Rooney's comments.

"There is no excuse for domestic violence. Nothing justifies abuse. Nothing, nothing is worth violence," she said.

"I hope that we continue to hold the Steelers, the Steeler organization and all professional athletes to the same standards we hold ourselves to."

Other alarmed reactions prompted Mr. Rooney to release a statement later in the day.

"To clarify the comments made earlier regarding the conduct of our players, in no way do we condone domestic violence of any kind," the statement read. "Each incident must be considered on a case-by-case basis.

"In the situation with James Harrison, he contacted us immediately after his incident and has taken responsibility for his actions.

"In today's decision with Cedrick Wilson, we determined the situation was severe enough to warrant the player being released immediately.

"We trust that today's roster move will indicate our intentions and send a message that we will not tolerate this type of conduct."

Two other Steelers were arrested over the past two years on domestic charges. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes had charges dropped in Ohio from an incident shortly after he was drafted in 2006, and halfback Najeh Davenport is contesting charges filed against him last fall in Cleveland.

Although not singling out any Steelers, Mr. Rooney said, "We think a lot of these players who have problems should get anger management courses and get some help."

Ms. Regan said she would like to talk to the Steelers on that topic.

"We're composing a letter again to the Steelers requesting a meeting to talk to them about training around lifestyle issues, particularly intimate partner involvement.

"I think what we're seeing with the attention these situations are getting is that violence with pro football players is no different than what happens every day in other people's lives, it just does not attract media attention. Hundreds of women are abused every day, an epidemic that is just ripping our country apart."

Mr. Harrison has been undergoing anger management counseling, according to his lawyer, Robert Del Greco. He also immediately acknowledged his wrongdoing publicly and said he did not want to be associated with domestic violence.

"The majority of our players are good citizens and make numerous positive contributions to the community," Mr. Rooney said. "Unfortunately, these kinds of incidents reflect poorly on all our players and many innocent and good people are considered guilty by association, they get thrown into the pot, so to speak."

In the Wilson incident, police said he pushed Ms. Paulat, the mother of his 16-month-old daughter, and punched her in the face when she turned around. He then left the restaurant and drove away. Police located him later at his home on Blue Heron Drive in Pine.

Ms. Paulat's left cheek was red and swollen when she spoke with police Wednesday night, according to the criminal complaint.

The bartender at Patron's, who declined to be identified, said last night that Ms. Paulat was alone at the bar and two other customers were at a table. The bartender was talking to her when Mr. Wilson entered.

"I thought he was going to sit down next to her and have a drink," the bartender said. Instead, Mr. Wilson spoke to her briefly, punched her, then turned and quickly left.

"I wasn't expecting that," the bartender said.

"She's fine and I know she kind of just wants all of the publicity to go away," Mr. DeRiso said yesterday. "I'm still trying to sort out the facts. I'm not quite sure what happened [to precipitate the attack].

"One of the things she's concerned about is her child and dealing with that aspect [of her relationship with Mr. Wilson]. Things were going really well, which is why what happened is confusing."

Ms. Paulat was involved in a 12-hour standoff at Mr. Wilson's home Jan. 19. She was charged with aggravated assault and reckless endangerment for shooting a handgun during the standoff with police. Her charges were later amended to a single felony weapons count for firing the gun twice inside the home during the standoff.

Late yesterday, Mr. Wilson released a statement that appeared on profootballtalk.com.

"First I would very much like to apologize in every way possible to Lindsey Paulat, our child, her family, my family, friends and the NFL community," the statement read. "My actions [Wednesday] were totally inappropriate, unacceptable and not up to the standards that I try to maintain in my life. What I did was wrong in every way and I take full and complete responsibility for my actions. I am going to seek counseling and work on these issues in my personal life and work to do what is best for our child and her future. Right now that is what is important."


Staff writer Wade Malcolm contributed. Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com , Michael A. Fuoco can be reached at mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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