Do you remember the time Dan Rooney told us the Steelers wouldn’t get involved in politics? He doesn’t seem to.
Rooney, chairman emeritus of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a longtime supporter of President Barack Obama, campaigning and raising a ton of money for him in 2008. For his diligent work, the “lifetime Republican” was named Ambassador to Ireland.
Rooney is also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, creator of the useless “Rooney Rule,” a requirement that NFL teams interview at least one minority candidate for head coach and general manager vacancies, and a man who knows his cronyism inside and out. In a 2004 Pittsburgh Tribune piece, columnist Bill Steigerwald laid out the Rooney family’s shameless taxpayer-backed business dealings.
Here’s a taste:
It was crime enough when Pittsburgh Steelers Sports Inc. – a healthy, very-much-for-profit franchise worth about $608 million – got $158 million in public subsidies to build Heinz Field.
Now, Gov. Rendell has given the Rooney sports-and-entertainment dynasty a fresh $5 million lifted from state taxpayers for a new, $12 million amphitheater.
Yet, for all his political connections, Rooney has always kept his team and his ideological activities separated. “The Steelers as an organization do not get involved in politics,” he once said, “but that does not mean that people in the organization can’t get involved in political activities, which are part of democracy.”
Well, that turns out to be untrue. Today we learned that Steelers will partner with Department of Health and Human Services and “team up with athletes, sports franchises and other celebrities to promote “Obamacare” and urge the uninsured — particularly the young and healthy — to sign up for coverage.”
The NFL had already passed on partnering with HHS, even though Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was “very actively and enthusiastically engaged” in discussions with the NFL and NBA. Dan Kaplan, NFL reporter for Sports Business journal, told Yahoo! Sports that the NFL had no precedent for political involvement, particularly on a “sensitive” issue.” “The NFL and other leagues have preferred to remain politically agnostic, supporting social causes such as literacy, cancer research and youth exercise without overt political angles,” Jay Busbee reported.
Now, I suspect Rooney supporters will argue that helping enroll and educated young people about the upside of Obamacare isn’t a political venture since it’s the law. I wonder if Democrats would feel the same thrill for civic engagement if some NFL owners had teamed with President George Bush to help recruit young people to join the armed forces and fight in Iraq? Certainly, in the middle of the debate Washington is having, I couldn’t think of anything more political or “sensitive.”
Rooney is, of course, free to do as he pleases, but I ask this sincerely: is there any aspect of our everyday lives that can remain free of politics?