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Starkey: Steelers' image in tatters

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

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There you will see Ben Roethlisberger clad in a black Satan T-shirt — that's Satan , not satin — apparently posing for photos with co-eds the night he was accused of sexual assault in a small Georgia college town.

I'm guessing none of the shots will make the cover of the Steelers' media guide.

Though bar-hopper Ben might well be innocent, team president Art Rooney II must be more than a little alarmed that his $102 million quarterback has as many sexual assault allegations as Super Bowl rings.

But let's be honest: The Steelers' carefully cultivated image isn't resting on Roethlisberger's innocence.

That image has long since crumbled.

The so-called Steeler Way is dead.

Don't get me wrong. The Steelers do most things better than nearly everybody. They draft better players, hire better coaches, win more championships.

But could we please stop pretending that they do so from elevated moral ground?

Rooney is not granting interviews, so there is no way to gauge his feelings on this latest legal headache. One wonders if he is ashamed of the Steelers' deteriorating image under his watch. Does he know that his players' off-field antics have made the franchise every bit as much a punch line as the Cincinnati Bengals?

Some people still buy the myth. That was obvious when rumors surfaced last summer of the Steelers having interest in disgraced quarterback Michael Vick.

The Steelers• They would never bring in a guy like that. That's not the Steeler Way.

At face value, such assertions were valid. The Steelers had no history of signing troubled, high-profile free agents and weren't going to sign Vick. But the implication that they only employ players of the strongest moral fiber should have insulted any reasonable person's intelligence.

Let's consider just some of the trouble we've seen since Super Bowl XL.

Where would you like to start: offense, defense or special teams?

Let's go with receiver Santonio Holmes, who was arrested twice within 25 days of the Steelers drafting him. A disorderly conduct charge out of Miami was dropped. Holmes later was charged with domestic violence and assault against the mother of one of his children.

In a police affidavit, the woman alleged that Holmes was "choking (her), throwing her to the ground ... and slamming her into a door." Charges were dismissed when Holmes' lawyers assured a Ohio judge that Holmes was participating in counseling through the NFL.

This past year, Holmes escaped a misdemeanor drug charge when his attorney successfully argued that a traffic stop violated the player's rights.

Another receiver, Cedrick Wilson, allegedly walked into a bar two years ago and punched his ex-girlfriend in the face. The Steelers, upon cutting Wilson, released a sanctimonious statement saying they hoped the roster move would "send a message that we will not tolerate this type of conduct."

That was before star linebacker James Harrison, who was arrested for striking the mother of his son around the same time as the Wilson incident, was signed to a $51.5 million contract. Charges were dropped, but Harrison had to undergo anger-management counseling — and in his autobiography, it was verified that Harrison struck the woman in the face.

We could go on. We could talk about the kicker's run-ins with a towel dispenser and policemen, the offensive line coach who accidentally forwarded a pornographic e-mail to league offices, the tight end who allegedly urinated in a parking lot near Heinz Field and even one of the team mascots who was arrested for DUI.

No need.

Let's just be truthful: All NFL franchises deal with trouble. All have been known to sacrifice ethics for the sake of winning. That's the point. The Steelers are no different than the rest, though they're having a pretty rough run at the moment.

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