Let this not be known as another morally outraged article about professional athletes and their often thick-headed off-field antics. This is about an organization that has the right to fire an employee based on a reputation and a false accusation.
By now you are aware that Chris Rainey, formerly a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was released by the organization Thursday after being charged with one count of simple battery after allegedly striking his girlfriend in Gainesville, Florida.
The problem is, he did not do this.
Imagine for a minute that you find yourself criss-crossed with the law. While minding your law-abiding business you are accused of doing something not-quite-so law-abiding. The police are called and witnesses implicate you in this not-quite-so law-abiding thing that you were not a part of.
You are detained by police.
Reeling from this experience, no doubt, of being falsely accused of breaking a law, you receive a phone call from your boss just hours later informing you that, since you have been accused of doing a not-quite-so-law-abiding thing by a couple of people who claimed to witness your actions, you are out of a job.
Does this seem okay to you?
You should ask Chris Rainey how he feels, because it happened to him.
Rainey is not the first and nor will he be the last person falsely accused of a crime. What makes this significantly more complicated is the email his girlfriend—the alleged victim—wrote to Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Judge David Kreider before Rainey appeared in the courtroom to discuss the terms of his pretrial release on Friday. She said there was no crime and she does not want to press charges. Her email states, in part:
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The incident that occurred today is both troubling and unfortunate...The incident was simply over a book bag with a cellphone in it, and possession of this bag...In no way did I feel physically threatened at any time...Over the course of our relationship together, I have never been verbally or physically threatened by Chris Rainey...What happened today was a misunderstanding and should not affect his future in any way.
Combine this with an eyewitness account absolving Rainey of any wrongdoing and I’m left asking myself, what did Chris Rainey do to lose his job?
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement on Thursday, “Chris Rainey’s actions this morning were extremely disappointing. Under the circumstances and due to this conduct, Chris will no longer be a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
One can only assume by “under the circumstances” Colbert is referring to Rainey’s abusive past. And I completely understand that when you send someone a text that says, “Time to die, [expletive],” that you are unlikely to get the benefit of the doubt if ever accused of a similar transgression.
But what about the man’s due process? Or is this how the Steelers do things now, waiving players who find themselves in situations that inconvenience the franchise? Did Colbert even bother to make a call to Rainey? Did he bother to get his hands on the police report to try to find out what exactly happened? Unlikely, considering he made the decision to waive Rainey mere hours after the incident.
Perhaps most troubling is the lack of accountability. The NFLPA hasn’t lifted a finger in defense of one of their own. Commissioner Roger Goodell hasn’t bothered to chime in. The Pittsburgh sports media—always ready to wag a disapproving finger at hot shot athletes marring the reputation of their blue-collar town—haven’t found the guts to ask the organization to explain its actions. There have been no further statements made about Chris Rainey by the Steelers front office.
This comes on the heels of Alameda Ta’amu taking a drunken joyride down the sidewalk of a crowded Pittsburgh neighborhood and being suspended two games for his trouble. And he has a history, too. I guess Ta’amu is simply too good to cut and Chris Rainey was expendable.
Depth chart justice. It’s the Steeler way.