Commissioner Roger Goodell and his "protecting the shield" mantra is taking another major hit, and this time it's the Pittsburgh Steelers who are in the crosshairs. ESPN's Outside the Lines is set to release an investigate report that excoriates Steelers' Head of Security Jack Kearney. The show will air on Sunday 9:00 a.m.
In a teaser piece published Thursday, ESPN investigative reporters Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada detail Kearney's role in the three criminal matters involving Steelers players: The 2013 stabbing of Mike Adams, the 2010 sexual assault allegations against Ben Roethlisberger in Georgia, and the 2008 altercation between wide receiver Cedric Wilson and his girlfriend.
The teaser claims Outside The Lines learned of Kearny and his work with the Steelers as part of its investigation into the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Rice case.
OTL describes Kearney as "The Cleaner," an apparent reference to the character Winston "The Wolf" Wolfe in "Pulp Fiction." In the movie, Wolfe is a shadowy underworld figure who destroys evidence of his bosses' crimes and is feared by even the enforcers of drug lords.
The reporters on this story, Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, are best known for their 2013 book, "League of Denial," which dealt with the concussion issue and the NFL's response to it.
The authors are probably correct in portraying Kearney as being involved in behind-the-scenes maneuverings when Steelers players were involved, but they go over the top by suggested way the authors portray who Kearney actually is and what he does implicitly accuses him of illegal activities.
The Sheriff's Office has little to do with criminal investigations. Sheriffs are primarily responsible for judicial security and chasing fugitives, according to OTL. In Pennsylvania, most of the Sheriff departments perform only court-related functions and as such are viewed by most other law enforcement departments as the errand boys of the judicial system. In fact, it took a 1994 Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversal of a 1991 lower court decision to quantify that sheriffs have the power to enforce felonies, motor vehicle laws, and breaches of the peace committed in their presence.
I belabor this point in order to highlight what is becoming a standard practice of the Fainaru brothers; to engage in sleight-of-hand hyperbole. They paint the actions of Kearney (and through association, those of the Steelers) organization as borderline nefarious; actions which, through the minutely detailed relationship that purportedly exists between Kearney and the Rooney family, paint a picture of an organization that employs a fixer to circumvent the law. The grammar and syntax the Fainaru use to describe events and actions is calculated to incense the reader and portray the Steelers as an organization that holds itself and its players above the law.
They quote Beth Pittinger, executive director of Pittsburgh's Citizen Police Review Board as saying:
"...as head of security (Kearney) allows the Steelers to use his publicly endowed law enforcement powers to protect the team's ‘property' (the players) and minimize the risk and the harm, for the owner." (emphasis added)
The only time Kearney can exercise his "publicly endowed law enforcement powers" is if a felony, moving vehicle violation or breach of peace is committed in his presence.
The insidious aspect of this whole article is the fact that the true nature of the Steelers' struggles, like those of any other organization, with protecting the collective group's name and reputation from the actions of its individual parts includes the difficult task of protecting its employees from third parties who may wish to do them harm, and the players from doing themselves harm, and in doing so protecting the organization itself. When you give young men 19, 20, or 21 years of age an inordinate amount of money, public exposure and the fawning of millions of fans, it is the rare individual of that age who can keep themselves out of precarious situations. These are not choir boys; these are head strong, healthy, virile individuals who receive untold wealth in return for engaging in a violent, physical profession. The siren song of money, women and risky recreational activities lures all but the rare few into compromising situations. Unlike you or me however, these athletes have everyone from media paparazzi to the Average Joe hoping to catch them on video doing something that could embarrass them or bring wealth to the lucky ones who catch them in the act.
In fairness to the OTL piece, and the Fainaru brothers themselves, certain of Kearney's actions do appear to come awfully close to crossing the line of appropriateness, and for a fan base that takes immense pride in the belief that its favorite football team, its owners and its players are somehow "better" than any other, getting a glimpse "behind the steel curtain" so to speak, does not reveal a reality many of us are comfortable acknowledging. The reality of the situation is that athletes and the owners of the teams they play for are afforded protection and courtesies we fans are not. It may not be fair; it may not be right, but it is a reality across the board, even with our Steelers. The authors of the OTL piece do mention that former Steelers do appreciate what Kearney had done for them, citing Max Starks specifically. It's more in the manner and style in which the OTL piece is written, than the substance with which I take issue.