Bad news Steelers: Meet the NFL's newest outlaw team

by | National Columnist

Their running back, Rashard Mendenhall, went to Twitter and defended Osama bin Laden, simultaneously morphing into a 9-11 truther.

Their wide receiver, Hines Ward, a possible Hall of Famer, recently failed a series of sobriety tests while driving in Georgia, police said. According to reports, Ward's Aston Martin hit a curb and Ward himself smelled of alcohol. He was arrested for driving under the influence.

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Their linebacker, James Harrison, in a recent magazine interview, called the NFL commissioner a gay slur, a crook and a devil, while adding for good measure that Texans linebacker Brian Cushing was juiced out of his mind. He also called two former Patriots clowns and ripped his own teammates.

Then there's their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, formerly accused of sexual assault. It led to numerous embarrassing moments for Roethlisberger and his team, but none more than at the NFL Draft. When it was time for the Steelers to make their selection fans began chanting: "She said no."

Introducing the new Pittsburgh Steelers, the latest bad boy team in a long line of NFL bad boy teams.

The Steelers may not eclipse the ultimate group of misfits, the Cincinnati Bengals, who have at various points led the league in handcuff fittings. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Bengals led the NFL in arrests between 2000 and 2010 with 31. It's the only thing Cincinnati has been able to win. In that same time period, Minnesota had 30 and Jacksonville, Denver and Kansas City each had 25.

No, the Steelers don't have large arrest numbers, but the image of arguably the most proud, respected and accomplished franchise in all of sports is taking a major beating nonetheless.

Beating isn't the word. The image of the Steelers is transforming right before our eyes, and frankly it's truly sad. While franchises like the Bengals have been a joke, the Steelers have been the league's granite, the Rooney family seen as one of the cornerstones of the modern-era football team. There have, of course, been controversies involving the Steelers but nothing like the recent spate of incidents.

What's happening to Pittsburgh isn't just bad for them, it reverberates around the sport, sending waves throughout the NFL that aren't felt when teams like the Jaguars or Carolina Panthers have numerous players arrested.

"It's not good for us when a team like the Steelers have these issues," said one high-ranking team official, who asked not to be identified. "Right or wrong they're seen as one of the more wholesome teams in the NFL off the field. When that's not the case, it hurts our league."

Multiple NFL sources tell me Steelers owner Art Rooney II is waiting for more information on the arrest of Ward before rendering judgment. However, these same league sources say Rooney is infuriated with Harrison.

While I doubt the Steelers would ever consider releasing Harrison, many in the organization, I'm told, are tiring of Harrison's act. The fact is, however, Harrison is so talented there's no way in hell Pittsburgh will ever let him go. Not to mention there are probably Steelers players -- and many around the league -- who agree with his statements regarding Goodell.

The Steelers do have a large quantity of good guys. Troy Polamalu is one of the most virtuous tough guys in sports. But their dive into bad boy-ism cannot be ignored or minimized.

And it has been building for some time. Kicker Jeff Reed was arrested for public intoxication in 2009. Tight end Jonathan Dekker was arrested for obstruction of justice. Santonio Holmes had numerous problems while a Steeler. Wide receiver Cedric Wilson had a domestic violence charge and was cut. Harrison was arrested in 2008 for domestic violence (the charges were later dropped).

In 2007, Najeh Davenport was charged with domestic violence, and later cleared by a jury. Linebacker Richard Seigler was arrested for being a pimp. Incredibly, he was released by the Steelers as the police were on their way to the team facility to arrest him.

The Steelers are crossing their fingers and hoping things stay quiet for some time. They're not alone. The league doesn't want to see a grand franchise like Pittsburgh sink into the muck of arrests and scandals.

Yet that seems to be where the franchise is headed, if it's not already there. And that's sad.


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