Steelers angered, embarrassed by players’ missteps
PITTSBURGH – The six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers don’t like losing – or being embarrassed. To a family owned team, image is more than an attractive logo.
So when the Steelers were humiliated on the same day by two star players who, only 15 months before, teamed to provide one of the franchise’s most memorable moments, they reacted without their usual deliberation and with an uncommon bit of anger.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is apparently off the hook legally for his alleged sexual assault in Georgia, but his troubles aren’t over. He must meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, possibly as early as this week, and could be fined or suspended under the league’s conduct policy.
There are more issues, too, for a franchise quarterback who won the Super Bowl twice in his first five NFL seasons.
Team president Art Rooney II, known to be frustrated and exasperated with Roethlisberger’s lack of maturity and judgment, said the quarterback must win back his teammates and his city. Maybe ownership, too.
“During the past few weeks, I have met with Ben on a number of occasions, not only to discuss this incident, but also to discuss his commitment to making sure this never happens again,” Rooney said in a statement. “The Pittsburgh Steelers take the conduct of players and staff very seriously. Ben will now have to work hard to earn back the respect and trust of Steelers fans, and to live up to the leadership responsibilities we all expect of him.”
Following the Goodell-Roethlisberger meeting, Rooney said, the Steelers “will determine the next steps in the process.”
There will be no next step with Santonio Holmes.
Holmes, who caught the Roethlisberger pass that secured the Super Bowl victory over Arizona in February 2009, was traded Sunday night to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft pick after the Steelers learned he would suspended four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Holmes already had provoked the Steelers on multiple occasions. After being accused in a lawsuit of throwing a drink on a woman at an Orlando nightclub, Holmes answered with a long string of comments on his Twitter account in which he suggested a fan should try to kill himself and other tweets that detailed the player’s love of partying.
Only last month, coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers’ standards for their players “are above and beyond that of our peers.”
That’s why, as a district attorney outlined Monday in great detail the embarrassing specifics of the nightclub incident involving Roethlisberger and his alleged victim in Milledgeville, Ga., the Steelers clearly were furious over their star’s conduct and the damage the allegations caused them and their reputation.
On a long and troubling day for one of professional sports’ most successful franchises, only Roethlisberger spoke publicly, reading a 74-second-long statement in which he expressed regret but did not take any questions.
Roethlisberger also read a statement last summer after a civil suit was brought in Nevada brought by a woman who accused him of assaulting her in a Lake Tahoe hotel in 2008.
Then, Tomlin and director of football operations Kevin Colbert immediately stood behind Roethlisberger in an apparent show of support. On Monday night, neither was present, and neither said a word about his situation.
“I’m truly sorry for the disappointment and negative attention I brought to my family, my teammates, coaches, the Rooneys and the NFL,” a visibly nervous Roethlisberger said in his first public comments since the incident. “I understand that the opportunities I have been blessed with are a privilege, and much is expected of me as the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
Hours before, prosecutor Fred Bright lectured Roethlisberger at the same time he detailed why he will not prosecute him.
“Grow up,” Bright said. “Grow up, cut it out … You need to be a role model for your team, your city, the NFL. You can do better.”
The Steelers’ message likely was much firmer: Three strikes, and you’ll be out, regardless of your success and a $102 million contract that is only about half paid off.
Holmes, whose ability and production were upstaged by his frequent off-field troubles, was cast off to the Jets for the 155th pick in the upcoming draft – minimal compensation for an accomplished receiver. Clearly, the Steelers’ main goal was to cut ties with him. Quickly.
The Orlando incident followed a one-game suspension two years ago, after Pittsburgh police detected marijuana had been used in his car, and two others involving disorderly conduct in Florida and allegations of domestic violence in Ohio.
“We believe the move is in the best interests of the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Colbert said.
How soon they forget.
While Holmes’ gear remains behind in the Steelers’ locker room, the nameplate above his locker already has been removed.
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