Ron Cook: Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey at least guilty of bad judgment

Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said he did nothing wrong at his birthday party earlier this month. I want to believe him. A man and two women filed a civil lawsuit Friday accusing Pouncey and his twin brother, Mike, the Miami Dolphins’ center, of attacking them at Miami’s Cameo nightclub early July 12, but there is no police evidence to support their claims. No criminal charges have been filed against the Pounceys. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t guilty of bad judgment. At the very least, they are guilty of that.

The alleged incident happened at 4:20 a.m. Why were the Pounceys still at the party at that hour? A lot of people target celebrities and look to make quick money from their fame. That’s especially true when alcohol is involved. Why did the Pounceys put themselves in a position for potential trouble when they have so much to lose? Maurkice Pouncey signed a new six-year, $48 million contract with the Steelers in June. Mike Pouncey is trying to rebuild his reputation after it took a beating last season when he was linked to the Richie Incognito bullying of Dolphins teammate Jonathan Martin.

I know the argument in the Pounceys’ defense. This is America. It is not against the law to be at a party even at an hour when very little good happens. Like all of us, the Pounceys have a right to live their life the way they choose. Just because they are young, rich professional athletes doesn’t mean they can’t go out and have a good time. They don’t have to be home at midnight, tucked safely in their bed.

That’s Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel’s argument. Since winning the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M after the 2012 season, he has been seen, photographed or reported to be in a number of incidents that, although not illegal, made him look bad under the harsh public spotlight. The latest involved Manziel being photographed tightly rolling a $20 bill in a nightclub bathroom. Speculation followed that he would use the bill with drugs. There is no proof that happened, but you know what they say about perception being reality, right?

Manziel’s high-profile, off-field behavior has been questioned, even criticized, by Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Warren Moon and Joe Montana, as well as by some of his Browns teammates. Manziel’s response? “I’m not going to change for anybody.” We’ll see if Manziel changes his mind now that he has been reprimanded by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, who told last week, “Johnny said it himself. He made some mistakes. We expect better from him … I think the really great athletes make their news on the field, not off the field.”

It’s safe to say the Steelers would prefer the headlines about Pouncey to center around his comeback from a serious knee injury last season. According to the civil suit filed by Riquan James, Brentley Williams and Niya Pickett, the Pounceys directed gay slurs at James before beating him. The suit also claims that Maurkice Pouncey knocked out Pickett with a punch when she tried to intervene.

Pouncey needs this?

The Steelers need this?

The NFL needs this?

There never is a good time for such horrific allegations, but they seem especially troubling now because so much scrutiny has been directed at Michael Sam and Ray Rice. Sam, a rookie linebacker with the St. Louis Rams, is trying to become the NFL’s first openly gay player. Rice, star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was suspended for two games last week by the NFL because of a February incident in which he allegedly knocked his then-fiancee, now-wife unconscious at an Atlantic City, N.J., casino. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been widely criticized for not giving Rice stiffer punishment.

Pouncey denied any wrongdoing in the Miami incident and said he and his brother took extra steps to make sure they had adequate security at the party.

“I’m a man about everything,” Pouncey told the media Saturday at Steelers training camp. “You all know every time I made a mistake I admitted to it. For something like this to happen and have no involvement in it is upsetting and hurtful to me.”

What’s sad is this whole thing could have been avoided if the Pounceys had left the party earlier or not had it at the same club where they had their party last year and were photographed wearing “Free Hernandez” hats as a show of support for their former University of Florida teammate, Aaron Hernandez, who is facing murder charges. It would have been even better if they hadn’t had a birthday party at all in a public place. That was Moon’s wise advice to Manziel: “You want to keep more of a low profile when you are out having a good time.”

Being rich and famous has a lot of privileges, but it also has negative side. You have to give up a lot of your individual freedoms. You can’t just do anything you want because people always are watching. Some are looking to take advantage of you. Is it fair that you can’t always go to the same places and enjoy some of the same things that ordinary citizens do? Of course, it isn’t fair. But is it reality? Absolutely. You are not an ordinary citizen.

The legal system will determine the Pounceys’ involvement — if any — in the Miami incident. But it is not too soon to say they made a really poor decision by being in that Miami club at 4:20 a.m.

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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