ShareThis Page

Starkey: Steelers outlaws of the NFL

| 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'

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.