Twenty five years ago I got hooked on Court-TV, a new television channel that showed interesting court trials while having experts give analysis back in the studio. I had one of those huge saucer satellite dishes, rare in the ‘80s, that allowed me to dial up that channel every day. I was addicted, mostly fascinated by the high quality of lawyering. I gained a newfound respect for attorneys in the American adversarial justice system. It's the job of a sharp prosecutor to shape the case as black and white, with white being in his corner. The defense attorney then points out all the gray! When the prosecution rests, the defense then gets a turn and the whole process flips.
What stood out the most were closing arguments. After hearing the prosecution close, I was convinced the defendant was guilty. Then after hearing the defense close, I wanted to acquit. This is a testament to the quality of the attorneys in our justice system. I also remember what the judge said before each lawyer gave his/her closing. The judge reminded the jury that closing arguments were not evidence; they were opinions of the attorneys based upon the evidence. In other words, the jury had to separate the wheat from the chaff and make a final decision.
The recent saga of the Pittsburgh Steelers reminds me of those Court-TV days. I've seen a lot of negative spin, as if people want to believe, and want you to believe, that the world is black and white. In putting the whole thing in context, I'd like to create closing arguments that you might hear if this whole saga went to some fictional trial. After you hear the closing arguments, what do you think?
"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, please find the Pittsburgh Steelers guilty of internal strife, lying, management undermining and publicly humiliating the head coach and the attempt of management to change the quarterback. It started when Mike Tomlin stated in his post-game press conference after the Denver defeat that he anticipated his coordinators returning in 2012. A few days later it was announced that Bruce Arians was retiring. In fact he never retired. He was not offered a contract. The organization lied, evidenced by the fact that Arians accepted the coordinator's position with Indianapolis a week later. Moreover, the act by management clearly contradicted Mike Tomlin's desire to keep Arians. They undercut their own coach and in essence publicly humiliated him. Finally, the organization hired Todd Haley to be the new offensive coordinator after saying that Big Ben needed to "tweak" his game. They are forcing Haley on Ben to put him in his place. As proof, Ben was infuriated when he learned that Arians had been let go. He also expressed desire to talk with the Rooneys when he returned from Hawaii. Ownership has clearly overstepped its own coaching staff. Isn't it Mike Tomlin's decision to begin with? Didn't they hire him to do a job and now they are doing it for him? This whole thing was a mess. He said, she said. Nobody is on the same page. Please find the Pittsburgh Steelers guilty of dysfunctional management and horrible public relations."
"Ladies and gentlemen, the prosecution has led you to believe that everything is black and white, and they want you to believe that Steelers' management is all black. They have painted an ugly picture that is just not reality. They have taken things way out of context. We would like for you to hear the other side.
First, it is true that Mike Tomlin likes Bruce Arians. And he may have slightly leaned toward renewing Arians' contract next year due to the horrible state of the offensive line, which would have made Bill Walsh look bad. But the conversation to keep Arians has been brewing for years. He himself has talked about retirement. When Coach Tomlin said he anticipated the coordinators returning, he certainly didn't want to cause a brush fire on the heels of an emotional playoff loss. He answered the question safely. He also quickly followed up with the caveat that everyone will be discussed and evaluated, but the prosecution never mentioned that to you. A few days after the Denver loss settled down, Art Rooney, Kevin Colbert and Coach Tomlin sat down and had a real heart-to-heart conversation. And while it wasn't an easy decision, certainly not black and white, they decided that they should go in a new direction. All three were torn, quite frankly, but in the end they were all OK with the decision. The prosecution wants you to believe that this was some kind of Hatfield-McCoy decision in which people lined up on both sides passionately. That is neither true nor fair.
Second, the prosecution wants you to believe that Mr. Rooney was meddlesome. They put him in the same light as Jerry Jones, down on the sideline calling plays. That's terribly unfair. Sure he has input, perhaps strong input, on matters every once in a while. But he only becomes involved rarely and after a season has ended. What's wrong with that? Is there any boss in America that doesn't step in now and again to make adjustments? Is there any office building or work setting in this country where the boss hires people and then runs off to Siberia to avoid being meddlesome? Again, that black and white mentality. At the slightest management involvement, naysayers claim that the boss should hire people and then let them do their job." That's just not reality.
Third, after the Steelers gently told Arians that his contract would not be renewed, it was a fair assumption that Arians might retire. He's 59-years old and has actually been talking about retirement. Just last year, in fact, he had to be talked out of retirement by Ben Roethlisberger. And he hasn't had any overtures of leaving the Steelers for a head job elsewhere. Wouldn't this lead you to assume that maybe Arians would indeed retire after not receiving a contract? The Steelers may have believed that he might retire even with a contract offer! So they took the high road. They called it a retirement. They thought they did Arians a favor by softening the blow. Folks, this happens all the time. This isn't deception. It's being kind. This is a common white lie equivalent to telling your grandma her mashed potatoes are delicious just to spare her feelings. As fate would have it, that white lie backfired when Arians took another job. It was Arians who spilled the beans on the team that tried to do him a favor. When he took that job with the Colts, it made the Steelers look bad, but really?
Fourth, it was Tomlin who hired Todd Haley. By this time members of the media wanted you to believe that Tomlin, in one writer's words, was "emasculated." They wanted you to believe that Tomlin was some kind of puppet and that Art Rooney had become another Jerry Jones. That is flat out untrue. Tomlin hired Haley and while the Arians saga was perhaps bittersweet in Tomlin's mind, he is genuinely excited about bringing in Haley. The prosecution wants you to believe that Haley was forced upon Tomlin and nothing could be further from the truth.
And finally the Ben thing. Mr. Rooney wants Ben to tweak his game, and the prosecution wants you to believe the sky is falling. All the Steelers want is for Ben to remain upright. Even Ben himself admitted that the healing process was much slower for a 30-year old than a 23-year old. What is wrong with wanting to adjust your game to increase the chances of staying in the game! We all know the NFL is a razor thin line. Is it that far-fetched to think that if Ben was healthy he might not have thrown that interception near the goal-line against San Francisco? Is it that far-fetched to think that a healthy Ben could have beaten the 49ers, gotten the number one seed and then won another Lombardi? Yes, we all want Ben to extend plays. We know that is a unique strongpoint of his game and a factor that makes him elite. But now that he's 30, the Steelers need to be a little less schoolyard and a little more Bradyish. That's all, a tweak that might result in a championship compromise. Arians wasn't going to do that. They were too far down the road. A new guy will have both the ability and desire to adjust Ben's game to achieve that delicate balance
Oh, and one more final thing. The prosecution wants you to believe that an outraged Ben demanded a sit-down with Rooney, bypassing Coach Tomlin, to confront the Steelers on the transition. That's silly. All Ben said was that he was anxious to have a pow-wow and talk about the new direction. What is wrong with that? They better had a sit-down! Ben is not a public relations major. He doesn't carefully measure his words to make sure all the naysayers don't go into cardiac arrest. But trust me, Ben is fine and will be fine. Winning is the perfect elixir. Watch the Steelers win some games next year and we'll forget we were even in this courtroom. Please ladies and gentlemen, don't let the prosecution fool you. The picture they painted is grossly unfair.