The Pittsburgh Steelers: Paragons of Virtue (Unless You Are an Important Player)

Rainman

Chris Rainey (Photo credit: Jeff Bryk)

By immediately releasing Chris Rainey after he was arrested for allegedly slapping his girlfriend, the Pittsburgh Steelers sent a clear message to the rest of the league and the fans:  domestic violence and criminal conduct will not be tolerated . . . unless you are an important member of the team.

Chris Rainey, the former four-star recruit who played at the University of Florida (and younger brother of He Hate Me), was arrested for battery on Thursday in Gainesville, Florida.  Rainey was charged after allegedly slapping his girlfriend in the face over a dispute related to a cell phone.

The Steelers took immediate action and waived (or at least announced their intention to waive) Rainey the same day.   In a press release, General Manager Kevin Colbert explained the decision:

This incident was not Rainey’s first.  While at Florida, Rainey was charged with aggravated stalking after allegedly sending a former girlfriend a threatening text message that read, “Time to die, b—-.”  Rainey agreed to a plea deal  and, after completing the terms of the agreement (which included six months of probation, counseling, and community service), the charges were dropped.

Make no mistake about it:  if these recent charges are true, Rainey certainly deserved to be cut.  In fact, given the seriousness of the charges, his immediate release upon being arrested was entirely warranted.

The problem I am having is the feigned righteousness being exhibited by the Steelers’ front office and the kudos that are being heaved its way.

After Rainey was released, Jason La Canfora, NFL insider for CBS, praised the Steelers for making a “strong statement”:

Dustin Hockensmith of the Central Pennsylvania Patriot-News goes even further in arguing that Steeler fans “should applaud [the] swift action on Chris Rainey.”  Here is what Hockensmith has to say about the decision to immediately cut Rainey:

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Bravo? Fortitude to do the right thing?  The Steelers Way?  Please.

This article makes Rainey sound like a legitimate talent who was an important cog of the Steeler team.  Despite all the injuries to Steeler running backs, Rainey only received 26 carries all season and averaged less than four yards-per-carry (3.9).  The article also overstates Rainey’s prowess on special teams.  Rainey did rank 8th in the league in total kick return yards, but this stat is misleading.  Rainey was decidedly middle of the pack as a kick returner, ranking 14th in yards-per-return for all players with at least ten returns.  Devin Hester he is not.

The reality is that Rainey, a fifth round rookie, is a middling talent and easily replaceable.  Would the Steelers have made the same decision to cut Rainey had he been, for example, a first round pick or a marquee player on the team?  Judging by the team’s history, the answer is clearly no.

  • James Harrison (LB) – In March 2008, Harrison, a star linebacker, was charged with simple assault and criminal mischief after allegedly hitting his girlfriend over her refusal to have their child baptized.  To avoid criminal charges, Harrison had to undergo anger management classes and psychological counseling.  He is still a member of the team.

I know many are asking the question of [why] we released Wilson and Harrison we kept.  The circumstances – I know of the incidents, they are completely different.  In fact, when I say we don’t condone these things, we don’t but we do have to look at the circumstances that are involved with the players and things like that, so they’re not all the same.

What Jimmy Harrison was doing and how the incident occurred, what he was trying to do was really well worth it.  He was doing something that was good, wanted to take his son to get baptized where he lived and things like that.  She said she didn’t want to do it.

  • Ben Roethlisberger (QB) – Roethlisberger’s incident in Millegeville, Georgia is well documented.  In March 2010, Roethelisberger was investigated for sexually assaulting a twenty-year-old woman in the women’s bathroom at a nightclub.  Although the district attorney eventually chose not to press charges because he could not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and because the victim did not want to be exposed to the publicity, the facts revealed during the press conference announcing the decision made it unquestionably clear that something nefarious had occurred.  Roger Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for the first six games of the 2010 season due to a violation of the personal conduct policy.
  • Alameda Ta’amu (NT) – Ta’amu was drafted in the fourth round in 2012 and was projected by many to be the eventual replacement for Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton.  Ta’amu was involved in a drunk driving incident where he was chased by the police, crashed into several parked cars, almost ran over a police officer, attempted to avoid arrest, and was finally restrained with two sets of handcuffs.  Ta’amu had a blood-alcohol level of .192, more than twice the legal limit.  As a result, he was arrested on thirteen charges, including DUI, resisting arrest, and aggravated assault.  Instead of being cut for his actions, Ta’amu was suspended for two games.  He was waived one month after the incident, but the team gave no indication that his release was due to his off-field incident.  In fact, after he cleared waivers, he was re-signed to the practice squad and ended the season on the active roster.

So, let’s look at the scoreboard here.  Holmes (first round draft pick/starting wide receiver), Davenport (running back having the best season of his career), Harrison (All-Pro linebacker), Reed (starting kicker), Roethlisberger (All-Pro quarterback), and Ta’amu (fourth round draft pick/viewed as Hampton’s eventual replacement) were not immediately cut.  In fact, in most of the cases the Steelers asked the public to wait on passing judgment until all the facts were known.  Wilson (a journeyman wide receiver) and Rainey (a fifth found rookie) were immediately cut upon being charged.  Additionally, the difference in handling the incidents cannot be explained away based on the severity of the alleged crimes as Harrison, Davenport, Holmes, and Roethlisberger were all accused of domestic violence or sexual assault.

The bottom line is this:  the Steelers are the same as all the other teams in the NFL (or in any professional sport).  There is a clear double standard, and the decision to cut Rainey reinforces this conclusion.  The players who are stars or who play key roles on the team get second and third chances. The players who are expendable and easily replaceable do not.  It is very easy to do “the right thing” when the right thing does not markedly impact the team.  Do you think Chad Johnson Ochocinco Johnson gets cut after being charged with domestic battery if he was 27 years old and coming off a 97 reception, 1432 yard season?  It’s a lot easier to cut a 34 year-old receiver coming off a 15 reception, 276 yard season.

No, the Steelers do not deserve praise for the decision to immediately cut Rainey.  The Steelers try hard to perpetuate the myth that they are more virtuous than other teams and hold their players to a higher standard.  Unfortunately, the evidence shows that “The Steelers Way” is no different from the way of any other team in the NFL.  If you want to slap your girlfriend around or sexually assault someone and still keep your job, just make sure you are a first round draft pick or a star quarterback.