What Happened to the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Thursday, Jul 14, 2011 at 12:00 pm ET

This is not a rhetorical question. Seriously - someone tell me. What has happened to the Steelers? Pittsburgh has one of the most storied, most talented, and most respected franchises in the NFL but few can argue that the Steelers name has been tarnished lately.

James Harrison Mens JournalJames Harrison recently did an interview for the upcoming issue of Men's Journal where he described NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as "stupid," "puppet", "dictator", and a gay slur. He's quoted as saying "If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it. I hate him and will never respect him." One could certainly understand the animosity between the two as Goodell has levied heavy fines against Harrison who is arguably one of the toughest defensive hitmen in the league. Blasting the Commissioner is one thing, but Harrison went after his own teammates as well.

He blasted Ben Roethlisberger's Super Bowl performance saying that Big Ben needed to "stop trying to act like Peyton Manning" and Rashard Mendenhall was a "fumble machine". He apparently has some words for former Patriots Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi as well.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis told the NFL Network that "It's disappointing to hear some of the comments he made about his teammates because this is a team game. It's not an offense against defense type situation. It's a team and you've got to go out there and compete as a team." If Harrison had issues with either player, he should have aired them out with those players and not in a national publication.

Speaking of both Big Ben and Rashard Mendenhall, neither is innocent in shining the most positive light on their franchise. Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault and admits to making "poor decisions" in the past. Mendenhall went to Twitter and posted "What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side..." in response to the death of Osama bin Laden. "We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style," he tweeted. He has since removed that tweet.

Hines Ward was recently arrested in Georgia for driving under the influence. The Steelers WR failed a series of sobriety tests after his Aston Martin hit a curb. Officers report that Ward "smelled of alcohol".

When any of these men do or say the things that they have (or are accused of having) done, it reflects poorly on them as well as the team that they play for. For better or worse, they are a reflection of the Steelers. The Rooney's have done an amazing job building a fierce yet wholesome reputation. They are one of the cornerstones of the league and it's sad to see that name tarnished.

Unfortunately for Steeler nation, this has been building for some time. Remember Santonio Holmes and all of his problems? Both Harrison and Najeh Davenport have had accusations of domestic violence leveled at them. Richard Seigler was arrested (the case was later dismissed) in connection with a prostitution ring. Jonathan Dekker has seen handcuffs for obstruction of justice. Jeff Reed has been arrested for public intoxication.

Some people may look at these examples and think "no big deal". These guys are NFL players and they have to deal with the spotlight 24/7. Maybe the media is too harsh on them. Maybe, just maybe, these guys are the real victims. But...try saying that to someone who has been raped. Try saying that to someone who lost a loved one on 9/11. Try saying that to someone who has lost a loved one to a drunk driving accident. Try saying that to someone who has been a victim of domestic abuse. It starts to look a little more real, doesn't it?

These guys are not perfect and they certainly aren't thinking about their teams when they say and do these things. James Harrison is just another in a string of bad news for one of the NFL's most elite teams. It's sad to see this happening to such a storied franchise. The media can highlight the postives from guys like Troy Polamalu, but those highlights are nothing more than a mere blip on their radar. The bad stories tend to have a longer shelf life and can eat away at all the good that has come before. That's why it's so important for these guys to think about the team before they say or do something that could tarnish a sterling reputation that took decades to build.

While Roethlisberger and Mendenhall have both publicly brushed aside the criticisms from Harrison who stated that the Men's Journal "twisted" his words, you have to wonder if any lessons have been learned here. Perhaps Harrison should close his mouth, open his ears, and take some advice from Jerome Bettis: "Think about the team and not about yourself". Sounds like sound advice to me.

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