Damage control is the next step for Steelers
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In storied Steelers franchise history, Dec. 23, 1972, is the most celebrated date.
Perhaps April 12, 2010, might go down as its most deprecated.
From the brightness of the Immaculate Reception to their darkest day since maybe 1973, when troubled Ernie Holmes shot at a police helicopter and wounded a cop while being chased.
In one day of infamy:
• Two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger expressed gratitude that the local district attorney announced he will not file charges involving a March 5 incident in Milledgeville, Ga.
• Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes was traded to the New York Jets -- for a fifth-round draft choice -- barely 14 hours before it was announced that he would be suspended for four games next season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
• Place-kicker Jeff Reed, appearing in Municipal Court, Downtown, Monday, listened as a city magistrate dismissed the remaining two of his four original charges -- disorderly conduct and public drunkenness -- after he completed 40 hours of community service with the Salvation Army.
"America is a forgiving society," said Mike Logan, a former Steeler and now a sports-talk radio co-host. He said callers and e-mailers overwhelmed WEAE-AM Monday afternoon, with an 8-to-1 ratio against Roethlisberger, even moments after he was effectively cleared. "But when you're in the thick of it, they want to see how you react, they want to see how you respond. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a reputation as a straight-laced organization. With all that's gone on this offseason, people are starting to doubt that. ... There needs to be some damage control done."
"You almost think there has to be [punishment levied] to protect their brand," added John Clark, an associate professor with Robert Morris University's sports-management program. "A lot of fans want to see some action taken against Roethlisberger so they don't see this stuff happen. It's an unenviable position for the Rooneys, because they really can't win this one. But they're certainly within their rights to do what they have to do to protect their image in this marketplace and around the world."
In the past two years, the franchise off the field has witnessed:
• Receiver Cedrick Wilson arrested on a charge of domestic abuse. Wilson was released soon after.
• Linebacker James Harrison, charged with domestic abuse. The charge was later dropped.
• Running back Najeh Davenport, found not guilty of domestic abuse, child endangerment and unlawful restraint charges in Ohio.
• Holmes, charged with having three marijuana-filled cigars in his vehicle. The charge was later dropped.
• Reed, charged with disorderly conduct and criminal mischief after police said he damaged a paper towel dispenser and harassed employees at a Sheetz convenience store. He pleaded guilty and was fined $543.50.
• Roethlisberger, accused in a civil suit by a Nevada woman of sexually assaulting her. The case is still pending.
About the time the NFL was notifying the parties of his suspension, Holmes' No. 10 jerseys were taken off the shelves of at least one official Steelers store, where fans continue to walk inside jokingly asking if Roethlisberger's No. 7s were on sale yet.
In recent weeks, an Orlando woman filed a lawsuit and accused Holmes of striking her with a drink glass in a bar, and he posted remarks on his Twitter account in which he told a fan to kill himself, invoked slang for marijuana usage ("time to wake n bake," stamped at 5:06 a.m. March 31) and wrote of "no more 24hr champaign [sic] diets during the workout week. Feeling all that Rose rite now" (stamped 6:31 a.m. March 25).
Agent Joel Segal said he and his client were surprised by the late-Sunday night move made by the Steelers -- who were ready to release their 2009 leading receiver, with 1,248 yards, until the Jets came along.
"Obviously, he has great memories of Pittsburgh. Great memories, good times," Segal said while his client was flying to New York and before his suspension went public. "He's ready for a clean slate, to start fresh and [have] a new beginning in New York."
While such incidents temporarily tarnish an image, sports-marketing expert Bob Dorfman said from his San Francisco office of Baker Street Advertising that it cannot hurt such an entrenched franchise in the long term. "Pittsburgh is such a solid, solid brand and so much a part of the city. I'd like to think that it's coincidence that all this has happened at the same time. I can't really say that it's a team culture."
The Steelers as a whole can easily overcome such a hellish offseason, he said: "Get back in the Super Bowl and avoid any embarrassing situations off the field."
"I don't think people are going to wear bags over their heads," said Rob Ruck, a sports historian and senior lecturer at Pitt. "Does this particularly damage the Steelers? I'm sure with some people it does. But, overall, people have to look what the pattern of behavior is over time, what their trajectory is. ... You can respect the decision [to part with Holmes]. With Roethlisberger ... that's going to have to play out."
First Published April 13, 2010 12:00 am