I’ve had the opportunity to cover this recent run of Steelers being charged with domestic violence from several angles, and have gotten to know some of those accused on a professional level from my years as a sports reporter and being in the locker room, so this is more than just an opinion you are about to read.
First of all, there is no reason to strike a woman. Ever.
Second, I’m not going to try and read the tea leaves coming from the comments of Steeler chairman Dan Rooney. That is for other to decide. I will just judge the team’s actions.
What I will do is tell you that Pittsburgh is getting a full dose of a problem that plagues the world of professional sports in general and football in particular. The rise in domestic violence involving these athletes.
While they are employed by the Steelers and the team does have a responsibility to make sure the players it brings to our city behave, it is not the Steelers job to babysit these players. The team claims that character does matter – and they have told me there is a code of conduct. Clearly, these employees ( and that is what the players are ) do not follow that code.
We point out the fact they are Steelers because their employer is high profile … and the employer should take a stand when one of their employees cross the line. But the real problem here is young men with a lot of money and a license to do anything they want. A license granted to them at a very young age when they first showed athletic potential.
While the players may all be good athletes, they are not all good people. Like society itself, the Steeler players reflect society. They may all be the cream of the crop when it comes to talent, but some are clearly not ready to be adults, much less role models. Frankly, it’s been my experience that we should not expect any of these young men to be role models since they are just learning how to be adults.
The NFL says it has a program designed to guide rookies through the obstacles and off-field dangers they will face. The program takes place before they ever get to training camp. It’s my belief that program should be an annual event for every player … and hopefully incorporate experts who deal with domestic violence.
The other thing that needs to happen is a zero-tolerance policy. Forget three strikes and you’re out. When you commit a crime, you should at the least be suspended – and immediately undergo counseling. Only after this is done – and the situation reaches some sort of conclusion – should you be allowed back on the field. Currently, the NFL does require counseling after every offense – but it’s a one-time thing and most often the player is on the field before it takes place. In my opinion, the league needs to look at playing as a privilege – not a right for the player or for the team.
Will this be the last time a Steeler is charged with domestic abuse or violence? The statistics tell me no. The hope is yesterday’s decision to release receiver Cedrick Wilson – without a trial – will send a message to the rest of those in the locker room that this behavior will not be tolerated. While the Steelers will be under the microscope from here on, it is the players who are the offenders and the players who misbehave who must change. The Steelers job now is to prevent such offenses from taking place by being proactive. Much more so than history would suggest.