Cook: Steelers wrong to keep Ta'amu
November 2, 2012
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It seemed so wrong. Seeing rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu on the practice field Thursday with the other Steelers in their South Side indoor facility, getting ready for the game Sunday against the New York Giants. Seeing him in the locker room afterward, shedding his pads, walking to the shower, interacting with his teammates. It all seemed so wrong.
Why is Ta'amu still with the Steelers?
The answer is obvious, isn't it? The Steelers are no different than any other NFL team. They are in the business of winning games. They would love to do it with only upstanding, community-serving young men, the kind you wish your daughter would bring home. But if they must, they will do it with a man facing multiple felonies, one who could be looking at prison time.
It's pretty disgusting, if you think about it.
It's also life in the NFL, 2012, a time when a player's talent trumps just about all.
Actually, this isn't just a 2012 thing. The Steelers long have been known to stick with players who get in trouble, especially if the players are good. Going all the way back to the early 1970s, defensive lineman Ernie Holmes was kept after shooting at a police helicopter above the Ohio Turnpike and later started on their first two Super Bowl teams. More recently, the team stuck with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after he was accused in two sexual assault cases. It stuck with linebacker James Harrison when he faced a domestic abuse allegation. It stuck with kicker Jeff Reed -- at least for a while -- after two alcohol-related incidents.
But the Steelers have been quick to release marginal trouble-making players. Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson is one who comes to mind. He was gone after a domestic abuse incident that happened right around the time of Harrison's. Linebacker Richard Seigler is another. He was gone after he was named in a prostitution ring in Las Vegas.
It's easy to take a tough, moral stand with players who really can't help you win.
The Steelers' decision to keep Ta'amu has to be a football decision. If it were a morality issue, he would have been gone the day of his arrest. Allegedly, he went on a drunk-driving rampage on the South Side early on Oct. 14 and faces 15 criminal charges, including felonies of fleeing police, aggravated assault while driving drunk and three counts of aggravated assault for nearly running down three police officers. The incident was so serious that police could have shot and killed him in the interest of public safety.
And Ta'amu still is with the Steelers?
Man, they really must think he can play.
Initially, the Steelers did the right thing, quickly suspending Ta'amu -- their fourth-round draft pick in April -- for two games without pay after his arrest. He forfeited more than $45,000 of his first-year salary of $390,000 and wasn't allowed around the team's training complex during the suspension.
"It's a disturbing incident, one we take very seriously in our community," coach Mike Tomlin said at the time.
Not that seriously, apparently.
The Steelers reinstated Ta'amu to their 53-man roster this week.
Ta'amu, who didn't dress for any of the first five games, almost certainly won't play against the Giants. It's a decent bet that he'll never play a game for the Steelers. He has a preliminary hearing Thursday and -- if eventually convicted -- could face prison time. Make that he should face prison time. The NFL also could bring further punishment down on him.
Ta'amu spoke to the media Wednesday and acknowledged making "a big mistake." He said he was embarrassed to tell his family of the incident. He seemed genuinely grateful that he hasn't been released by the Steelers or shunned by his teammates. "They have my back," he said of the other defensive linemen. "It feels good to have that support."
Of course, Ta'amu is remorseful. It's always easy to be remorseful after the fact. "I promise it will never happen again," he said.
It probably won't.
It's hard to believe Ta'amu will get behind the wheel of a vehicle and drive drunk again.
Or is it hard to believe?
This was not Ta'amu's first alcohol-related arrest. He was charged with driving under the influence after an incident in 2009 when he was playing for the University of Washington.
Ta'amu doesn't belong with the Steelers. He belongs in a place where he can get help.