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April 22, 2010 - A Day That Changed The History Of The Pittsburgh Steelers?

History isn't just defined and shaped by a limited number of singular events. Instead, it's a never ending narrative that builds on itself. Nothing is detached entirely from the past. There are of course watershed moments that help structure the overall framework of a historical narrative. In American history, those dates obviously include the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 9/11, etc. In the lore of the Pittsburgh Steelers, defining moments would include The Immaculate Reception, the 1974 Draft, Antwaan Randle-El's throw to Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL, the hiring of Chunk Noll/BillCowher/Mike Tomlin, Santonio Holmes' toe tapping TD to win SB XLIII, etc.

Well, Thursday April 22nd, 2010 could be one of those defining moments in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. Day one of this year's draft could be viewed as a defining moment in the storied stewardship of the Rooney family over the Steelers franchise.

That defining moment of course could come in the form of a trade of franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Whether or not it's at all likely to happen (the NFL and its teams are notorious for their secrecy and lack of transparency) is debatable. But reports seem to unanimously claim that the organization has been at some level entertaining the idea of trading franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Before I go any further, let me just say to those who want to say: 'way to not support your QB dude' - I'm not trying to do anything with this post other than to say wow, we're maybe on the cusp of a very interesting moment in Steelers history, and two, no matter what, I trust the Steelers ownership to make a sound deicision based on a whole lot of factors. I stand by the Pittsburgh Steelers and how they're operated and how rooting for an organization like that makes me feel. I love to stand by the individuals that make up the organization collectively. But for better or worse, the NFL is structured in a way that leads to lots of player movement around the league. There's not much loyalty these days when it comes to personnel, so frankly, I don't feel too compelled to exude limitless support to any one player in the organization. I would however not prefer to switch allegiances with the team I love. Ever.

This isn't about morality so much as it is me trying to conceptualize all of this through the lens of what the Rooneys have at stake with their brand and how they may or may not be willing to jeopardize the image they've worked so hard to create with their fans and around the NFL.

Back to the rumors floated around about the organization entertaining potential trade offers. Being that we're on the eve of the 75th NFL Draft, it makes sense that potential trade offers involving draft picks might be explored. That said, a decision doesn't necessarily need to be reached by tomorrow if the Steelers are in fact interested in moving on from the Ben Roethlisberger era. The team could conceivably wait for the dust to settle on the Draft, see which teams have filled glaring needs, and which may be in the market to make a move based on the assets they've collected in the draft. I don't know, but I do think that there comes a point in the not so far future where the team publicly commits to giving Ben Roethlisberger a chance to write a new story for himself moving forward. If that happens (and it most likely will to the delight of those fans who want Ben's special skill set on our side regardless of his off field behavior) then Roethlisberger will have the chance to cement his legacy not only as a big game quarterback with multiple SB rings, but also as a human being that got raked through the coals as a result of his own poor judgment only to come out the other end a better man. 

I have no clue what the top brass may or may not be thinking, but I do think that in a billion dollar business like the NFL, it's safe to say that there has at least been a conversation about what it means for the Steelers 'brand' if they were to stand by Big Ben, as well as what it might symbolize for the brand's image if they were to trade him now. In the immediate future, the decision may be interpreted a lot different than it might be 5, 10, 25, and even 100 years from now.

Remember, this is a family business that the Rooneys are operating. A telecom or any other sort of corporate interest doesn't own the Steelers. The Rooney family owns the Steelers, and as evidenced by their diligent efforts last year working out an ownership structure that would ensure that the family would retain control over the organization long into the future confirms they're in it for the longrun. 

The Steelers brand is one of the strongest in all of sports...worldwide. And it wasn't built overnight. As we learned recently from a post penned by mary rose, 'the character of the Steelers has not changed'. Great perspective offered in that piece, but what has changed is the media exposure of star athletes. God only knows what kind of mischief players may have gotten into back in the day. The public only really heard about the most egregious transgressions of the players Steeler Nation loved to cheer for. Today though, the media climate is different. Everybody's empowered with the technology to capture incriminating moments. And to the chagrin of misogynistic men, women today thankfully feel more compelled to speak up when they've been violated. That means, to me, that teams have to be a lot more calculating in how they manage their brands. 

I myself have no idea whether or not to believe Big Ben when he says that he's going to learn from this, grow from this, and never let something like this happen again. I am though a believer that there's certain personalities and individuals that can't be trusted to make the adjustments and begin respecting their place within a society that's much bigger than themselves, no matter how famous or talented they are. Pacman Jones strikes me as one of those guys who will never get it. To lesser degrees, there's people in all of our lives we know are never truly going to 'get it' and find a way to lead a life that's not self-absorbed or reckless in some fashion.

When I say things like 'in the Rooneys I trust', what it really means is I trust their evaluation of people. Do they know football? Yeah, of course they do. But what really makes them successful if you ask me is how they successfully surround themselves with competent, trust worthy people. From their scouting department on up to the top-most personnel and financial folks - I imagine that there's not a Vinny Cerrato type shady character in the bunch.

Things are more complicated of course when you're dealing with multi-millionaire athletes in their 20s. Mistakes will be made, often times ones that could never be accepted from a 9-5 operational employee of the franchise. In today's age of agents and handlers, obviously Big Ben has been instructed by his team about what to say and how to handle himself. Still, I believe that the Rooneys were able to get some sense of whether or not they should hitch their wagon to Roethlisberger in the future based on his interaction with them in the aftermath of this mess. You can't B.S. people like that like you can the media. More importantly though, regardless of how he's handled himself this past 6 weeks, the Rooneys may have seen enough of Roethlisberger's personality to know that something like this is simply too likely to happen again in the future.

Bottom line is that whatever happens, I trust their people management skills and will remain steadfast in my belief that they will continue to value operating with the right kind of people while remaining committed to their ultimate goals of winning championships for the fans and making money for themselves.  So whatever they decide to do with Ben Roethlisberger - whether that's to trade him or to support him 100% in the future so that he can hopefully make progress maturing as a person and ambassador of the franchise - I trust that the decision will be made based on where their most basic instincts lead them regarding Big Ben and his potential to rehabilitate his sense of self and his reputation with the Pittsburgh community locally and Steeler Nation and what it represents more broadly.

I am hoping for the best and will be thrilled if the Rooney's decide to stick with Big Ben. He's one helluva quarterback and it's obvious he's passionate about being great on the gridiron. Who knows, maybe this is the wake up call he needs to get him as serious about being great as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are. If that happens, look out. And believe me, I'd prefer for Ben to be wearing a Steelers uniform if/when he finally decides to get with the program with his off field behavior.

All that said, I wouldn't be too shocked if the unthinkable happens and #7 is traded away in the next few days or weeks. An organization is bigger than one player, and if a collection of astute businessmen that have been exposed to the entire spectrum of personalities in their personal and professional lives mutually agree that somebody can't be trusted moving forward, then that's that. You have to cut your losses then and there, because even though talent and productivity reign supreme in the NFL, projecting a certain image to your fans and the corporate world that helps support you matters too. And if you know in your heart of hearts that you're hitching your wagon to a character that will likely let you down again, that's not acceptable. Not for a family business that is in it for more than just quick profits and 15 minutes of fame.

I think the world of Ben Roethlisberger as a quarterback so I very much hope that the organization believes that he can still be trusted to be the face of Steelers football. If they don't though, and decide to minimize the possibility of their brand being tarnished any more than it already has been recently, so be it.  I would at least be confident that the decision was made with the long term interests of the organization and its fans in mind.

Stay tuned. The next few days and weeks could be the crescendo of an already quite 'loud' 2010 offseason for the six time Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.