Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger requesting a trade away from the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Like most fans in Steelers Nation, this Sunday news flash by reporter Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network struck through the heart as a dagger. But for me, as a longtime professional in marketing and communications, it also drew another sharp response.
Ben. Friend. What are you doing? That is a major public relations disaster for you. Haven’t you learned anything?
So it was great relief throughout the day to see that not only Ben refuted the report, but so did his agent and even Art Rooney II.
But was there some splinter of truth to the report? Probably. And that’s why I am offering this unsolicited advice. Directly to Ben.
Because you are my favorite Steelers player, the one whose jersey I have worn most every Sunday morning game since your rookie year. I cheered when you first got in trouble. That was for wearing “PFJ” on your shoes. Yes, even having three letters signifying “Play for Jesus” on your shoes will catch you heat with the NFL’s uniform police.
Imagine my disappointment when I learned of the “alleged” incident in South Lake Tahoe years ago at a celebrity golf tournament. Since I lived only forty minutes away, I can tell you with firsthand knowledge of how that news saturated our communities for a period of years. In a city of our size, many people knew the “alleging party” and the attorney who represented her.
Still I wore my number 7. And yes, they shouted the same names out to those of us who wore your jersey as they did to you Ben.
Then came the “alleged” offense in Georgia. That was the time where, as a father of three daughters, I hung your jersey in my closet where it gathered some dust. But I took it out again when it looked as if you had changed your ways. And I wore it to support you at sports bars and opposing stadiums. And yes, Ben, they shouted out those names to us some more.
But the Rooneys stood by you all along. They gave you another chance and backed it up with their wallets. And contrary to some of the allegations, I don’t believe they did it merely because you’re a great player. A future Hall of Famer.
It’s because they believed in giving you another chance. Because they believed in the man you could be.
And I believe you’ve become that man. Because of the support of your family. Because of your faith. And because of the Rooneys.
So here is your unsolicited public relations advice.
Continue to say what you’ve been saying. You love Pittsburgh. You love the Steelers. You love the Rooneys. You would never leave. And mean it.
Even if some of the fans turn on your and treat you with disrespect. Even when the team insists you take a pay cut. And even when they cut you when you get old. The worse it gets for you, the better it will get for you to stay rock solid and fully committed. Go down with the ship.
Through it all. Never leave the Steelers and never want to leave the Steelers.
It’s free of charge. But that is 100 percent good public relations advice.
And while we’re on the subject, give your much-maligned offensive coordinator a big hug in front of the cameras.
Because whether his name is Bruce Arians, Todd Haley…or Bozo the Clown juggling flaming balls on a unicycle…it makes no difference. Whether you have to throw five yard passes instead of eighty yard passes, it makes no difference.
You got another chance, brother. You should ooze with gratitude.
Thirty years from now, when your grandchildren come to your house they’ll want to hear about your glory years. They’ll be thinking about your Super Bowls, but you’ll know the most pivotal moment in your career.
Who your offensive coordinator is or whether you played on a team that went 0-16 three years straight during a period of transition won’t make a difference.
But what the Rooneys did. What the fans did. What Pittsburgh did.
That was all of the difference.