Sunday, July 17, 2011

Steelers Off-season Part 2 - Concerns for Future Steelers?

The other day, I wrote a very long opinion on James Harrison's recent comments with most of it directed at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.  While that piece of news is controversial and significant, it is just one of the many offseason issues the Steelers have had to deal with for not just this year but for about the past five years.

About a week or two ago, Hines Ward was arrested for a DUI and faces a year in jail.  Before that, Rashard Mendenhall went on Twitter commenting on Osama bin Laden's death.  Around this time just a year ago, Ben Roethlisbergher was accused of sexual assault, and while not charged, he was publicly eviscerated by everyone, from within his own team to the entire nation.  And that was after he already went through off-season troubles the year before with another sexually related crime and his near-death motorcycle accident in 2006.  Those are the main Steelers related news outside of hiring new coaches, or player signings.  There have been others like Santonio Holmes' string of off-field issues that led him to being traded to the New York Jets, and Cedric Wilson being let go about five years ago for off field issues as well.  All of these issues have me wondering, even with some unreasonable paranoia, if the Rooneys are losing control of some of their players, especially their stars.

Now, I know people are going to kill me over this but I respect that the Rooneys have been able to avoid the troubles other teams have gone through.  Dan Rooney hasn't ended up thinking like Al Davis and Dan Snyder, two sports owners spending big money on players who aren't necessarily worth the trouble.  They also have a great manager in Kevin Colbert and avoided hiring someone who has no idea what to do when picking and signing players and coaches like the Detroit Lions did when they hired Matt Millen.  They may not be big money spenders but they aren't necessarily cheap like the Chicago Bears who have been accused of being spendthrifts when dealing with their coach Lovie Smith only to spend it big on someone like Jay Cutler.  Heck, they're not like Jerry Jones who gets the money to build a shiny new stadium only to realize that it doesn't win you championships.  Sure, the Steelers went through some ownership troubles but didn't go through the mess that the 49ers did a few years back when one of their former owners had legal trouble of his own.  Their divisional rivals, with the exception of the Ravens, have been historically struggling with ownership's inability to improve their team, though the Browns may be going up while the Bengals have question marks.  The Steelers, I believe, will still be there, through good and bad when they had losings seasons but always competed to show they can do it.  They're on the same level as teams Steelers fans may hate, like the Patriots, Eagles, Ravens, and Packers.  They may not necessarily have the best players but have the coaches who are able to keep their players motivated and play well.  I like to think that it will continue, even after Dan Rooney is gone, which I doubt cause he'll forever be a Joe Paterno, always there even in death.  Things are set and they will focus on building their players and doing it the right way.

That said, these off-season issues with their players have to be a concern.  I can understand Rashard Mendenhall cause he's still a youngster, only entering his fourth year as a player and third as a starter.  But
Hines Ward?  He is a veteran who's still a force despite nearing the end of his career and has seen and heard a lot of things, only to end up doing something he really shouldn't have.  He's arguably one of the most popular Steelers in history, a game changer for his tough physical play.  But to have a DUI?  Really, Hines?  After all of the hoopla you added on to the Ben situation last year, and being on 'Dancing with the Stars' when there's no lockout ending in sight at the time, you end up getting arrested yourself?  Ben I thought would be less reckless considering his stature and recognition throughout the sports world after his motorcycle accident.  These two near misses he had with the law when he was really facing serious repercussions, along with trade rumors, may have scared Ben into changing himself.  We'll still wait and see what he does for the rest of his career, but after all that's gone on with the Steelers' after their season ended with a Super Bowl loss, you would think they would want to continue fighting for the title, more motivated to do better.  No, instead the players decide to do something that will add distractions.  Instead, they will face questions about what's going on and if the coaches will do something in addition to league punishment when the lockout will end.  Is this the start of something troubling?  I don't think so, but it has got to worry the organization as a whole.

Look, I know that there has always been trash talking and off field distractions teams have to deal with.  Lamarr Woodley I would prefer to not say anything cause they have to play the game, but that's nothing compared to legal trouble.  I mean, the Rooneys and Mike Tomlin have proven to be capable of handling things well, so let's hope that will continue within our lifetimes and beyond.  Even if Kevin Colbert decides to leave one day, I can hope that the Steelers will not pick someone who's not even half-capable of signing players and coaches.  They are known to be builders from the inside-out, and that has helped a lot, even if not all of us agree.  They stick to their guns of what's worked, granted in a changing league but they always know what is needed to play and win games.  They still have veteran leadership like Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller who can lead players right.

Still, I don't know if the Steelers want to have anymore legal issues involving their players.  That sounds narrow-minded, I admit, but does management want to have players add to the overall league problem?  The NFL is focused on player conduct, and they have checked into potential players' backgrounds to determine if they are able to focus on contributing to the team they eventually play for.  I'm not doubting the Steelers have done that, but should they also set up symposiums of their own for future players in addition to league symposiums?  I should hope not considering all incoming rookies have resources available to them to understand the pitfalls of success.  Social media has evolved, and we all need to be careful of everything.  We screw up, yes, but it's compounded even more for high profile people.  That adds on to personal and professional pressure.  It's bad enough that players in general have off-field issues, but they are put under a heavy microscope, with their every movement basically followed.  Even a hint of something troubling would come out and blow up in everyone's faces.  I just hope there isn't anything as troubling as the Ben situation from last year, and if there is one again in the future, the Steelers will handle it properly.

All of this is just rambling with sprinkles of concern as a sports fan.  Even casual fans have to wonder if teams can keep their players out of trouble and how much info drilling they need to put into their players' heads not to cause trouble.  It's personal decision, yes, but if a longtime player like Hines Ward ends up having legal issues after criticizing his own teammate's problems, then what's to be done?  The owners and coaches know what to do, but maybe they should set up internal workouts of their own with upstanding players taking the charge.  Troy and Heath could lead symposiums for incoming Steeler rookies in addition to the NFL's during training camp, and maybe have players who have had brushes with the law to hammer in the reality of their situations.  Whatever the case, let's hope the Steelers can continue to do things right and handle things with great care.  They're more or less able to not say anything other than 'no comment', and actually wait to see what information comes out.  I know we all want to avoid serious problems outside of our personal lives, and its our responsibility to do so.  We just have a tendency to raise our athletes to unbelievable levels of standards that we forget their humans too.  Regardless of what they are outside of the public eye, we should understand that they need to figure out what they want and how to do it.  I know the Steelers' brass will handle things, but its up to the players to decide how they can provide for future teammates in terms of life management and success.  The last thing any Steeler fan wants, or Pittsburgher in general, is for a TMZ cover story on bad behavior by Steelers players.  And that, I believe, is something no one in the Steelers family wants.

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