Multiple Pittsburgh Steelers players said today that coach Mike Tomlin gathered them together and informed them of a new zero-tolerance policy for off-field misconduct.
“We were told early this morning either you get in line or you get kicked out of line,” said offensive lineman Willie Colon, who was with Ben Roethlisberger in Georgia the night he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a bar bathroom. “You are going to be traded or you’re not going to be here. If your conduct is going to play a part in you not being a good football player, they are going to get rid of you. . . . There is a zero tolerance, not only with the NFL but with the Steelers.”
According to the Associated Press, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin denied making those remarks. But the AP also reports that multiple players confirmed they were told there’s a new zero-tolerance policy.
“Guys took it different ways, depending on how they interpreted it, but I think . . . after what we’ve seen go on, there’s not going to be much tolerance for stuff around here,” defensive end Aaron Smith said.
It’s interesting that Smith says players “took it different ways,” because one of the reasons the Steelers have been subject to criticism on this front is that the team has handled off-field misconduct in different ways for different players. Two years ago, when star linebacker James Harrison was accused of domestic violence, the Steelers were quick to accept his explanation. When mediocre wide receiver Cedrick Wilson was accused of domestic violence, the Steelers were quick to cut him.
That seeming contradiction led to Steelers owner Dan Rooney releasing a statement saying, “Each incident must be considered on a case-by-case basis.” But “zero tolerance” suggests that future incidents won’t be considered on a case-by-case basis, and that any incident at all would lead the Steelers to send a player packing.
Last week, Steelers President Art Rooney II acknowledged that a player’s contributions on the field will be considered when the team determines whether to keep a player who has gotten into off-field trouble.
“As you can imagine, to keep our commitment to our fans to consistently put the best possible team on the field, we must also evaluate a player’s likely contribution, both in short term and the long term,” Rooney said.
And so we expect the Steelers to live up to their zero-tolerance policy if the next guy to get in trouble is the 53rd man on the roster. The real test of the Steelers’ mettle is whether they’ll apply “zero tolerance” to their stars. So far, they haven’t.