by Tommy Hough
Good grief Steelers, really?
I've been reading a lot about second chances on the series of tubes this week, and many of those calling for second chances are those serving as apologists for convicted felon Michael Vick, who signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers as backup quarterback on Tuesday.
Over the years the Rooney Family, which has owned the Steelers franchise since 1933, built a reputation as one of the few places in the NFL where what you did off the field counted for as much as what you did on it. It didn't just take bad P.R. for you to get cut or thrown off the team – stupid or criminal moves, even in the off-season, were simply not tolerated by the Rooneys or the Steelers organization. If you were an idiot, you did something stupid or were arrested, you were gone. There were consequences.
Unfortunately, those days feel like a long time ago now. Ben Rothlesberger and his buffoonishly inappropriate behavior over the last 10 years, which resulted in at least two serious sexual assault allegations, had already set what I believed to be an unusually high level of what the Rooney family would tolerate. Why is Big Ben still donning a Steelers uniform? Because he's become the face of a winning franchise, and there is little doubt he will eventually end up in Canton at the NFL Hall of Fame.
A similar situation for linebacker James Harrison, who was arrested in a domestic dispute with his then-girlfriend in 2008. While Harrison was retained following "successful completion of anger management," wide receiver Cedrick Wilson was shown the door following a similar incident. Harrison has become an integral part of a winning, or at least routinely competitive, Steelers franchise. There's little doubt Harrison will also wind up in the Hall of Fame.
So now we come to Michael Vick. As far the Steelers are concerned, Vick is a blank slate – even to a passive football observer, the man is an excellent bargain in terms of experience, ability and overall health. But surely the Steelers must have been aware of Mr. Vick's public relations liability. And if that was the only barometer by which Vick's history was considered, then we have a real problem.
I'm a Pittsburgh native. I love my hometown even though I haven't lived there since I left for college. I'm not a fanatic, but I enjoy rooting for the Steelers and Pittsburgh sports, and I enjoy it when they win. Unfortunately, the NFL continues to give people like me who actually have other things to do on Sunday more than ample reasons to tune out – and hiring the "dog killer" is one of them.
Am I being judgemental? You bet. But it didn't fall out of the clear blue sky. I don't believe anything Mr. Vick says or does can atone for the utter cruelty he inflicted upon those animals. His heart may be in a different place now, and I hope it is – but I cannot root for the Steelers as long as they have Michael Vick on the payroll. Not interested. He only signed a one-year deal, so maybe next year. Or maybe never again. I just never imagined the Steelers would ever do something like this.
Yes – I eat meat. I get the argument that I cannot be an advocate for animals or speak for them if I also eat them. It's a valid point. But I do love animals, and if I pray for anything, it's for animals in captivity, animals unable to move, sentient beings who cannot understand or conceive why cruelty is inflicted upon them day after day at all hours. And I think about Vick's dogs, starved of love and food, and trained only to maul and kill.
Expletives deleted – what were you thinking, Steelers? What possibly makes this a move to be proud of?
Maybe next year. But maybe never again.
A San Diego County planning commissioner and former radio host at 91X and FM 94/9, Tommy Hough works as an environmental consultant with the ReWild Mission Bay campaign, and is a California Democratic Party delegate and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action.