Rooney's call on Big Ben is too tough to call

Rooney has a difficult decision regarding Roethlisberger, but the best thing for a proud franchise might be to cut ties


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As the CEO of an iconic family-run business, a business that happens to be the most successful single entity in the most successful league enterprise in the history of American sport, Art Rooney II has at his disposal a nuclear arsenal of brainpower.

He's got lawyers, accountants, communications experts, public relations wizards, marketing masters, spin doctors, head doctors, physicians, surgeons, internists, outurnists and a genealogy that represents little less than an intellectual Fort Knox of accumulated knowledge on the topic of how to run a professional football franchise.

But what he doesn't have, and what he really needs, is one of those little 5x7 index cards with "If This ..." on one side and "Then That ..." on the other. The kind coaches refer to when they can't remember whether it's better to go for one point or two at specific points relative the scoreboard's illuminated arithmetic.

No, Art II can't sit down at his desk overlooking an expanse of practice fields near the end of South Water Street and run his finger over a chart until he comes to "Super Bowl MVP wideout, alleged to have thrown a full glass at a female at 2:30 a.m., tweets that the fans don't cut his check and might want to consider offing themselves while he plans idly to 'wake and bake' despite previous drug violation," and then match it with the corresponding part of the chart, "trade him to the Jets for a fifth-round pick."

Decisions like what to do with a bonehead like Holmes, much less what to do with an evident serial misogynist All-Pro quarterback like Big Bad Ben Roethlisberger, are viciously complicated and aren't made a lick easier even by any of the expertise available to a third generation of Rooney stewardship.

The Steelers, in fact, could be led deftly into their NFL future by fourth and fifth generations of Rooneys without encountering a decision as difficult as the one Roethlisberger presents.

If they separate themselves from No. 7, they risk competitive irrelevance for an indeterminate period, during which some portion of their fan base might be irretrievably alienated. If they don't, they risk a turbulent future during which the face of the organization is better known for another exposed body part, all amid a climate where the franchise with the greatest percentage of female fans is likely to take a thunderous public relations hit. That portion of the season-ticket base with college-age daughters is already at risk.

You want to make that call?

Plenty of people do, and, as usual in the post-modern Era of the Loud, the middle ground has been abandoned. The afflicted either want nothing to do with the Steelers so long as 7 is whipping passes, or they accuse anyone who is the least bit uncomfortable with a 28-year-old quarterback who would follow a vulnerable, saloon-faced college girl into a bathroom of being psychotic to the point of failing to grasp the urgency of Any Given Sunday.

Before Holmes was traded, someone called the Subway Nightly Sports Call to complain that I'd used the term "baggage" in relation to the aforementioned bonehead.

"What baggage?" our guest wondered.

"Well, he was arrested twice before he even got the uniform on," I said.

"Hey," he said. "Your memory must be short-lived. These guys won us the Super Bowl. What does baggage have to do with anything?"

Sorry. The right question is, "What does the Super Bowl, or anyone's contribution to it, have to do with anything?"

Not to quibble, but what have six Lombardi Trophies done for Pittsburgh? Have they saved a single manufacturing job? Have they arrested infant mortality? Have they erased the city's budget deficit? The goal is a productive, forward thinking, civil society around here, not the seasonal consolation prize of embarrassing the Cleveland Browns, when possible.

What the Steelers have done for much of the past 40 years is afforded their fans in the city and worldwide some sense of pride, nothing more and certainly nothing less, but pride is a little more complicated and a little more delicate than what can be described by the club's situation within the relatively silly politics of the AFC North.

Somebody's going to be very, um, unprideful, the next time the quarterback is implicated in this kind of creepy mess. He already has had to stand next to Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert and swear he wouldn't put himself in this position again, and within eight months, put himself in this position again.

Any guesses on how many times he did it without getting caught?

I wouldn't want to be in Art II's position, and, regardless of what he decides, he'll do it with more information and better instincts than I. But some NFL team is going to be judged as the enabler of the next boozy assault on a defenseless female, and a lot of people in this town would prefer it's not the Steelers.

The Steelers can and should get out from under this guy. They can keep Ben and assist in his attempted rehabilitation, but that's a bathroom I wouldn't walk into.


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com . First Published April 18, 2010 4:00 AM


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