Teammates of Steelers rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu, facing multiple felony and misdemeanor counts after a police chase early Sunday morning, said it is important to support him and help him, even though they acknowledged what he is charged with doing was wrong.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the case is being reviewed "under the appropriate league policies," but indicated any action in terms of discipline would have to come from the Steelers. Records obtained by the Post-Gazette show that this was not the first time Ta'amu has been charged with driving under the influence.
Ta'amu's attorney, Robert Del Greco, said a preliminary hearing has been set for 8 a.m. Oct. 23. Ta'amu was released from jail Sunday on $25,000 bail.
"You don't stand by in the sense of making him feel this is right," said safety Ryan Clark, the team's player representative. "You don't 'amen' this in that it's OK to do. But you don't throw him away, you don't exile him from the team, you don't stop talking to him, you don't stop being his friend.
"If you're family, you don't do that. When someone in your family makes a mistake, you try your best to work through it with him, not make him go through it by himself."
It was not known what immediate disciplinary action the Steelers will take with Ta'amu, a fourth-round draft choice from Washington.
He faces felony counts of fleeing police and aggravated assault while driving drunk; and three counts of aggravated assault for nearly running down police officers with his vehicle. He also is charged with 10 misdemeanors, including resisting arrest and attempting escape. Police said he crashed his 2006 Lincoln Navigator into several vehicles while fleeing them on the South Side.
Court records show that Ta'amu also was charged with driving under the influence in October 2011 for an incident that occurred Dec. 12, 2009, when Ta'amu was playing for the University of Washington. Trooper Joe Gannon of the Washington State Patrol wrote in a report that he stopped Ta'amu for driving 73 mph in a 60 mph zone on Interstate 5 about 3:40 a.m. and "smelled an odor of alcohol coming from him and ... observed his blood-shot watery eyes."
Police said Ta'amu, who was 19 at the time, blew a 0.097 and 0.098 on breath tests and told them he drank six Budweisers in three hours before he attempted to drive home in a 1993 Chevrolet Suburban. Prosecutors initially charged him with driving under the influence, but he instead later pleaded guilty to negligent driving, for which he was sentenced to one day in a community-work program and ordered to pay a $350 fine.
When former wide receiver Santonio Holmes was charged on a misdemeanor count of marijuana possession Oct. 25, 2008, coach Mike Tomlin did not let him practice the rest of the week and held him out of a game against the New York Giants.
At the time, Tomlin said Holmes was being deactivated for the game because his situation had created "a distraction" for the team. Tomlin's decision was never termed a suspension, and it was not known if Holmes lost one week's salary.
Typically, the league lets the involved team handle disciplinary measures for offending players.
If, however, the league does not think the punishment is severe enough, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell can increase the penalty for the player and also fine or discipline the team.
"It's up to the league and the team's job to figure out the consequences of what he did, but it's our job to love him up and let him know what he did was wrong but that we're still here for him," said nose tackle Casey Hampton, Ta'amu's idol and mentor.
The NFL Players Association provides a program called "Safe Rides" in which players can call for a ride home if they feel as though they are unable to drive.
The program is run by a private investigation firm and is available to players anywhere in the United States and Canada. Players also pay $85 per hour for the service, which has its phone number on the back of every union card.
It is believed the Steelers have some type of similar arrangement for its players, as well.
"It's a sad deal," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "He's a talented young kid who made a mistake, a serious mistake. He's under a lot of heat right now, and rightfully so. We're going to love him and, hopefully, he can learn from these mistakes."
Ta'amu, who is of Samoan descent, is known among his teammates as a polite, quiet and easy-going player who is quick to smile and pleasant to be around.
Clark said he and Troy Polamalu went to the movies with Ta'amu at training camp and often ate with him.
"That's what bothers me and hurts me," Hampton said. "I know he's a good guy, but what he did was serious, dude, and you can't take anything away from that and I'll definitely let him know that. You got to let him know the severity of it, but, at the same time, you got to try to pull him back in and bring him back in and let him know we're here for him."
Liz Navratil contributed to this report. Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @gerrydulac. First Published October 16, 2012 4:00 AM