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Dan Rooney lauds Batch, mum on Ben

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Steelers owner and U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney declined to comment on whether his team stands behind embattled quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

But he was quick to point to one of the quarterbacks in line behind Roethlisberger - Charlie Batch - as an example of the type of person players ought to be.

Rooney, who helped craft an image of the Steelers as a team with working-class values whose players adhere to higher moral standards than are expected elsewhere, received the Citizen of the Year Award from the state AFL-CIO on Wednesday night.

The dinner, attended by more than 500 people in the Westin Convention Center Hotel, served also as a send-off for union President Bill George, who is stepping down after 20 years in the post.

"It isn't every day that union men and women get together to honor someone in the business world," national AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said. "This is someone who has always respected the men and women who work for him. ... The legal papers, they may say that the team belongs to the Rooney family. The Rooneys dedicate their team to and share it with everyone who lives in Pittsburgh."

Speaking before the dinner, Rooney deflected questions about Roethlisberger, who was accused by a woman in Georgia of forcing her to have sex with him in a bar's bathroom. The local district attorney announced Monday he would not prosecute Roethlisberger, saying the assault couldn't be proven in court.

"My job is to be in Ireland," Rooney said. "I would just say that it's a serious matter, and it's being handled properly by (Steelers ownership and management). I think they're handling it very well."

Asked if the organization supports Roethlisberger, Rooney said, "I'm not making any comment on that."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who sat beside Rooney during the dinner, said he met with Roethlisberger for "a couple of hours" Tuesday and discussed the league's policy on player conduct.

Goodell said he believes Roethlisberger emerged with "a better understanding" of what's expected of him. He declined to go into specifics about what was discussed and what penalties are being considered, but said a decision would be made "in the near future."

The league has "a very high standard of conduct" for players, Goodell said. "We owe that to our fans."

One of the players delivering that, Rooney said, is Batch, who joined Rooney before the ceremony.

"I think players have to be special. I think we have a special man right here with Charlie, as far as what he does, what his foundation does for children in this community. I think that that's the way they should be," Rooney said.

Batch's Best of the Batch Foundation provides after-school programs and a basketball league in his native Homestead, an area with high poverty and unemployment rates.

Batch declined comment on the allegations against Roethlisberger.

George, an Aliquippa native who will be succeeded by Rick Bloomingdale, spent 50 years in the labor movement.

"Bill deserves as much credit as any person alive for making Pennsylvania one of the strongest pro-union states in the country," Shuler said. "There are millions of people in Pennsylvania who have a better life because of Bill George."

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