Starkey: Steelers outlaws of the NFL

Joe Starkey
| Thursday, July 14, 2011

Next time you hear somebody say, "The Steelers wouldn't sign a guy like that " or "The Steelers wouldn't draft a guy like that " — intimating that the Steelers stay away from bad apples and controversial types — feel free to laugh heartily in that person's face. For several hours.

While the Steelers might not take on other people's lightning rods, they do an excellent job of manufacturing their own — James Harrison being the latest example with his incendiary comments in the August issue of Men's Journal.

Truth is, this franchise has become the modern-day version of the 1970s Oakland Raiders. Outlaws of the NFL. Some might view that as an insult (especially if they grew up in these parts hating those Raiders), others as a compliment.

It is undeniably true.

Now, the Steelers clearly remain the NFL's model team in the most important category: winning. They do that better than anyone. But those still pointing to this franchise as some kind of moral beacon• They're flat-out delusional.

It was just a year ago that coach Mike Tomlin uttered the following: "I think it's well known that we're very, very conscious of how we do business, that we're very highly concerned about our image, perception, how we conduct ourselves, our standards of conduct. I think it's above and beyond that of our peers. We embrace that."

Wow, is that funny.

I'm not sure a professional sports franchise has ever undergone an image transplant quite like the Steelers during these past few years.

To wit ...

• The star quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) has twice been accused of sexual assault. Though never convicted, or even arrested, he was suspended for four games at the start of the 2010 season for violating the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy.

• The biggest celebrity on the team (receiver Hines Ward), fresh off winning "Dancing With the Stars," was arrested for DUI last weekend.

• The former star receiver (Santonio Holmes), a consistent source of trouble, was finally dumped last spring after inviting a fan, via Twitter, to "kill urself." Some lauded the Steelers for this move, ignoring the fact that Holmes was given roughly 632 chances before they finally cut ties.

• The starting tailback/conversationalist/structural engineer (Rashard Mendenhall) made national headlines when, in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, he questioned in a tweet whether airplanes really could take down skyscrapers.

• The entire team rebelled against the NFL last season, spitting in the face of rules adjustments allegedly designed to reduce catastrophic injuries and ripping commissioner Roger Goodell on multiple occasions. Ward called the NFL "hypocrites." Even the softest-spoken player of all, safety Troy Polamalu, has taken his shots from time to time, once labeling the NFL a "pansy league."

• The other safety (Ryan Clark) is the closest thing the NFL has to old Raiders menace Jack "The Assassin" Tatum, destroying pass catchers and prompting the league to alter its rules. He's not shy about blasting Goodell, either.

• Finally, and most recently, there is Harrison, photographed brandishing his guns in a Men's Journal article titled "Confessions of an NFL Hit Man." I'm guessing that won't double as the cover of the team's media guide. In the story, Harrison calls Goodell a "crook" and a "devil." He also rips Roethlisberger and Mendenhall, giving the Steelers the feel of another '70s Oakland team — the dysfunctional but highly successful Athletics.

What to make of all of this?

Well, if I'm the Steelers, I'm not getting rid of Harrison. He's too good. But it's interesting that his remarks have surfaced when longtime NFL receiver Plaxico Burress, just out of prison, is looking for a team.

Don't expect the Steelers to inquire.

They would never sign a guy like that.

Additional Information:

Head over to ...

the Men's Journal website to read 'James Harrison: Confessions of an NFL Hitman'

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