The Pittsburgh Steelers are generally known as a clean organization. With the loss of Alan Faneca, a team captain, and James Harrison's arrest for assault, second-year Head Coach Mike Tomlin has his first genuine PR alarm to answer.
It's in Tomlin's best interest to suspend Harrison, a Pro Bowl linebacker, quickly if he is indeed guilty (an affidavit entered at the time of Harrison's arrest says Harrison corroborated everything the victim said).
Harrison was arrested in Ohio Township (outside Pittsburgh) on March 8 on charges of assault. He is accused of slapping his girlfriend across the face after he broke into her room, where she had locked herself, presumably to avoid Harrison.
When Tomlin took the reins from former coach Bill Cowher in January 2007, his immediate concern was getting the Steelers back into the playoffs after an 8-8 season.
Since then, he's presided over the bitter departure of Faneca, the arrest of running back Najeh Davenport for assault, the general collapse of one of the top offensive lines in the game, a somewhat questionable first-round draft pick (Lawrence Timmons) and now, a criminal charge against one of the team's best players.
How will Tomlin spin this?
Cowher had to deal with then-rookie wide receiver Santonio Holmes picking up a domestic assault charge in summer 2006, but that was eventually dismissed. Former Steeler Richard Siegler was charged with running a prostitution ring in Las Vegas in 2006, when he was a member of Pittsburgh's practice squad. He was quickly released from the team.
Harrison won't be so easily dismissed. Obviously, Tomlin is not going to condone Harrison's behavior. Considering the Steelers' reputation, and the pressure NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has placed on the league since he took over in 2006, suspending Harrison for one game may be the Steelers' wisest course of action.
Harrison has become a fan favorite ever since he was placed on the practice squad as an undrafted free agent in 2002. Known for his toughness, which earned him the nickname "Silverback", Harrison gained YouTube fame in 2003 when he picked up and slammed a fan who ran on the field on the ground during the Steelers-Browns game that season.
It's not so funny anymore. His image certainly has been damaged, and a traditionally straight-arrowed organization is going to be forced into action over this incident. While the standard response of, "We're going to let the authorities investigate the matter before rushing to action" can be expected, the affidavit filed by the police in Ohio Township basically says Harrison admitted to this charge.
Taking care of the matter swiftly and appropriately will help the Steelers save some face with the league and their fans.
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