Reflections On The Santonio Holmes Situation

Sigh. I really would prefer to not have to speculate about what may or may not have happened with Santonio Holmes in an Orlando nightclub earlier in March, and how his future may or not be subsequently affected by what exactly transpired on the night of his alleged wrongdoing. I don't really have a long-winded narrative about a 'change of culture' in Pittsburgh or anything like that, but like I did in the wake of Big Ben's alleged incident, I'll share some of my thoughts on both Holmes and the disturbing trend of malfeasance and poor judgment that has rocked the Pittsburgh Steelers organization this offseason.

* Let's start by acknowledging that the suit that has been brought against Holmes for allegedly throwing his drink at a woman in an Orlando nightclub on March 7th - just two days after Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault roughly 400 miles northeast of Orlando in Milledgeville, Georgia - is a civil suit. In other words, no criminal charges. Holmes faces a civil suit for assault and battery and the alleged victim will be seeking unspecified damages in excess of the jurisdictional minimum of $15,000.  

On the one hand, there are plenty who might say 'all you need to know is that the woman just filed a civil suit. She's probably just looking to make a cheap easy buck from someone who has plenty to burn on covering up mistakes that may not be the type of honest mistakes that we excuse ourselves, friends and family from, but are also not the types of evil transgressions that are worthy of lawyers, courtrooms and potential repercussion from NFL headquarters in New York.'  

On the other hand, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, circumstances that night may have affected the way that the alleged victim proceeded with recounting the incident to law enforcement:

She claims that, outside the club, she asked a police office to "reprimand" Holmes for his conduct. The complaint then alleges that "he" (it's unclear whether the pronoun refers to the officer or Holmes) "proceeded to inform the plaintiff that he was an NFL football player and that he could not face criminal charges." Mills also alleges that Holmes then "offered to give [her] money because he was a [sic] NFL star and could not get into trouble."

Bottom line is Holmes won't be facing any criminal charges for whatever he did on March 7th. He may be coughing up some money to a woman that perhaps deserved to be treated rudely for her behavior. That's not to say I condone throwing a drink at somebody when they've upset you. That's bush league, period, if for no other reason than somebody else is going to have to pick up the mess when you throw a beverage all over the place unnecessarily.

That's trivial though and what custodial staffs are there for I suppose. There's also the fact that you have to question somebody who decides to lash out in that way when they're upset, even if they have a legit reason to be pissed off. We all get angry, we all react in ways that we regret. But not many of us vent our frustration with somebody in the heat of a moment by throwing a drink on a woman. Maybe and regretfully one might call a an ill-intentioned woman an unseemly name or two, but nothing like resorting to drenching her with a cocktail.

* Okay, enough about that evening. I realized something about the sequence of events when thinking about all of this today. Let's travel back in time just a bit to March 12th when Holmes joined an Atlanta radio station to talk about his Super Bowl heroics the year before and the latest news surrounding Ben Roethlisberger's off field legal problems. In the interview - after a number of fluff questions had been asked about his jaw-dropping catch to win Super Bowl XLIII - Holmes was asked about two things. (Btw, that Bunk guy who wrote that post on that interviews site, that's me. I helped found that site a few years ago and continue to write on it when I can. I mention that only because it's why I even thought of the odd chronology in the first place).

Anyway, Santonio was first asked about reportedly butting heads with Coach Tomlin at various points throughout the 2009 season. Here was his answer:

"Yeah, but he's one of those guys that's always on your case to make you a better person. And if he wasn't that person, he wouldn't be doing his job. I have to commend him for what he's done for me. At the time, I didn't [understand], but in the long run, I definitely have to see the big picture when it's all said and done."

Okay, nothing really there exactly in that answer, but when this interview was initially referenced in a daily six pack the day after the interview was conducted, the commentary revolved was more focused on Big Ben and Santonio's thoughts about high profile athletes heading out to night clubs where not much good seems to happen. What I thought was more interesting (at the time at least) was the fact that Holmes was butting heads with Tomlin last year. For what? I don't know. Perhaps his role in the offense? I'm quite curious but I really have no idea. All I know is that Holmes played outstanding football for the vast majority of the 2009 season. I was as impressed by his development and performance last year as I was with anybody on the roster. Still, it's noteworthy that Holmes feuded with Tomlin over whatever the subject may have been in what was essentially a contract year for him and his future with the six time Super Bowl champion Steelers. 

One more thing about that interview before moving onto a a few more thoughts about Holmes' future in Pittsburgh. It really is quite ______ (you fill in the blank with any adjective expressing astonishment) that Holmes was asked about falling prey to the perils of nightclub life five days after Roethlisberger's incident, and just three days after his own mishap in an Orlando joint. Nothing had gone public yet, but there Holmes was on Atlanta's most popular and widely heard sports radio station talking about Big Ben's situation and about the broader subject of athletes and whether or not they should frequent nightclubs at all. Here's what he said at the time:

"You say that now, but when you're out having fun, you're just having fun. Like I said, you're entitled to go wherever you want to go. You're not expecting those things to happen, you're going to have fun and enjoy yourself. And when these things occur, how do you defend yourself?"

Again, I just find the sequence of events to be very interesting. Nothing that he said was all that novel or revealing. Just the fact that he had his own unfortunate incident two days after Big Ben's, and was on the air commentating - however indifferently and politically correct - just a few days after that. 

Hadn't really thought of this until just a second ago but who's handling his PR? Maybe his crew hadn't learned of the alleged episode by the time Holmes hit the airwaves in Atlanta, but if they did, why would they allow Holmes to go on the air to talk about unfortunate nightlife situations that he himself had just days previously subjected himself to? Who knows, maybe 'Tone went about that on his own without telling his agent and other handlers until a later date when the woman who was allegedly victimized had made her intentions clear by filing a civil suit. 

* Let's talk Holmes' future in Pittsburgh. If I had to guess right now, I'd sadly have to say that I don't think Holmes will be continuing his career as a Steeler beyond the 2010 season. I really, really hope I'm wrong in this regard because I personally think that Santonio Holmes is one of the game's most promising (yet already accomplished) young wide receivers.

I saw Santonio Holmes do amazing things on the football field during the 2009 NFL season. Sure his numbers may not have been gaudy once again. But I saw Holmes take over games multiple times last year; I saw him prove himself to be a better blocker than he'd been in his first three years combined; I saw him show more maturity on the field last year than in earlier years in terms of the way he kept an even keel about him and competed consistently each week without major swings in his performance and focus level; and oh yeah, I saw him put up career highs - by a long-shot - in receptions and receiving yards while playing a complete 16 game season for the first time in his short professional career.

I don't think 'Tone's future is done in Pittsburgh by any stretch of the imagination, but I think you can kiss goodbye any chance of him getting the type of extension this offseason that so many former Steelers have received during the summer before the final year of their contract. That ain't happening this summer with Holmes, even if he was guilty of nothing more than reacting in a less than classy way to an overbearing and conniving woman. With the labor situation nowhere near close to being resolved, I think the Steelers can take a 'wait-and-see' approach with Holmes' future with the organization.

For one, the Rooneys can keep a close eye on #10 all season long to see how he conducts himself on and off the field. Feuding with Tomlin won't stand this year if he hopes to return for 2011 and beyond. Obviously no more incidents off the field will be tolerated - even if they don't result in criminal charges. If there happened to be a lockout to start the 2011 season, well, then that might give the Steelers even longer to assess whether or not Holmes had proven himself worthy of a contract extension by virtue of keeping his nose clean since March 9, 2010. 

* Hey, why not, this has gone long enough but here's one more thought about the potential domino effect from this incident. Actually hold up...

* Before we go there, let's say this. Anybody who tries to argue that either Santonio or Ben will be suspended by either the Steelers or the NFL for more than a game or two are crazy and not worthy of your time or attention. It doesn't take a whole lot of research to realize that the two of their track records aren't worthy of a prolonged suspension - at least as measured by how Roger Goodell has governed in the past. And that's not to say that Goodell has been soft in any way shape or form. It's just that neither are walking on legitimately thin ice in terms of the NFL being forced to contemplate suspending them for a more than a game or two. At most. There have been others that have yet to be punished by the league for a multitude of mistakes greater than those turned in by either Ben or Santonio.

Let's be clear about that though. Both Ben and 'Tone could very well be suspended for one or two games to start the 2010 season. I'd rather not write much more than that there's a historical precedent of guys with somewhat similar 'sheets' getting reprimanded by the league during the Goodell tenure. And for reasons I'd rather not elaborate on, it might make more sense for the league to hand down similar punishments to both Holmes and Roethlisberger rather than try to make some sort of subjective assessment of who deserves to be suspended for one, two, or possible even three or more games than the other. 

* As I stated out the outset, I have no sort of moralistic or kitschy angle on all of this. Roethlisberger and Holmes have made mistakes, both recently and in the past. The extent of those mistakes is debatable both in a court of law (at least for now in regards to the latest allegations levied against the two of them) and in the court of public opinion. The Rooney family and Kevin Colbert now have a decision on their hands about how they want to negotiate the court of public opinion questioning whether the Steelers franchise is worthy of all the accolades heaped on it for the way it conducts business and of the reputation it has for being one that is bigger than any one individual.

Do I think an article penned by Mike Florio stating that the Steelers have established themselves as the new Bengals is a sign that the top brass of the organization needs to look themselves in the mirror? No, not necessarily. But the bottom line is all eyes are on Pittsburgh, and not for good reasons. Sadly, I think the Steelers will let 'Tone walk after next year regardless of what they think of him as a talent. I think they're confident enough in their abilities to plug holes in the roster to let him walk and subsequently reinforce their no-nonsense ethos as an organization. With Big Ben, I think it's a bit naive to think they'd decide to part ways with Ben for his alleged transgressions this past two years. Is he on thin ice? Yes, I think so. And another incident like the one brought against him this past two offseasons probably means all bets are off, but for now, I think he'll be just fine with the organization so long as he keeps his nose clean from here on out.

As for Holmes, I don't think he's done in Pittsburgh after this year no matter what, but if he were to remain in the Black 'N Gold beyond 2010, it might come down to him A) playing at a real high level all year...B) deciding deep down that he wants to be a part of something bigger than himself in Pittsburgh...C) and maybe even having the organization's hand forced by any number of factors such as Hines' health, Mike Wallace's development, Antwaan Randle El's ability to prove himself more than a ceremonial signing, etc, etc.

* Just to make sure I'm concluding in a disjointed fashion, let me go back to contract extensions. Mike Tomlin's contract extension. Poor guy. I think this string of bad publicity this offseason diminishes the likelihood that Tomlin receives the contract extension he deserves. That's just my opinion, but I think it would be mighty foolish to let go of a leader like Tomlin. But let's face it, this organization only hums if the paying public is happy with who they're paying their hard earned dollars to cheer for. Winning matters...more than anything else...but winning with law-breaking, self absorbed egos impresses us fans a lot less than some might think. I don't think at all that the majority of Steelers fans believe Mike Tomlin is responsible for creating a culture of unaccountability with the Steeler roster, but I personally think it's a safe bet to assume that the Rooney's will decide not to re-up Tomlin this offseason in light of the off the field problems of two of the team's bigtime offensive stars. I think Tomlin now has to hope for his players to keep their ass in line and turn in a successful 2010 season - i.e. a playoff berth at least.

That may not be fair (and I don't think it is, personally, because it's not Tomlin's job to babysit), but it's still probably safe to bet that the Steelers will be willing to extend the contract of their head coach during such an unsettling offseason, not to mention the fact that the squad is coming off a season where they missed the playoffs. I think Tomlin's here to stay for a long, long while. But for PR purposes, I think the extension will have to wait for a bit longer than usual. Maybe even into the season, which is fairly unprecedented for Steelers coaches and for head coaches throughout the NFL in the final year of their contracts.

* Allright, enough from me. I don't even know how to go back and review what I've written, but I'm glad I took a day to at least think about a few things before just racing to post something when we all heard about the unfortunate news earlier on Monday morning. 

Please respond to my all-over-the-board thoughts with some more of your own. Sorry for the disorganized nature of it all. Time for bed. Been a long day trying to think of something to write in response to the latest unfortunate setback in Steeler Nation. Hopefully the skies get bluer and less cloudy for the remainder of this already too tumultuous 2010 offseason. 

-Michael 

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