Friday, January 28, 2011

Steelers Skeletons

I'm not one to really dump on my enemies when they're down. Okay, now that you've gotten the laugh out of your system, I'll present this article for your viewing pleasure. Your three sentence summary of the article?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are the greatest franchise in sports.

But you know what I've learned while covering this team, extensively, during the past 15 years?

They also might be one of the dirtiest.

Ahh... Music to my ears! I thought, "Now here's an article I can really get into and enjoy with all my heart." And then I actually read it. Okay, so I am one to dump on my enemies when they're down. And while I'd love to pile on support for this piece, I can't. It's deeply flawed.

The author, David Fleming, commits two of the biggest sins of analyzing a problem. Let's look at each individually.

The first and biggest problem involves what Fleming is trying to prove. In this case, he's trying to prove that the Steelers are "one of the dirtiest" organizations in football. This suggests that the Steelers have done more bad "stuff" (whatever that stuff is) than any other organization, or at least a majority of them.

While he does a mediocre job pointing out the bad stuff the Steelers have done (more on that in a minute), he's missing a key point. He doesn't tell you how bad all the other teams are. Okay, he mentions that 13 Steelers have been arrested since Superbowl XL, vs. only 5 from the Packers.

But that's a joke. First, what's with the ambiguous time-frame? Well, a quick look at the database the article linked shows a near four year gap between arrest #13 and #14. The database actually shows arrests since 2000. The Steelers have 16. Out of 531. Let's see... 32 teams in the NFL... Carry the five... The Steelers are actually below average in arrests since 2000. Second, why is this the only supporting evidence given at how bad the Steelers are at something vs. other teams? And why is only one other team used as the barometer?

The real issue here isn't that Fleming doesn't show the Steelers have skeletons in their closet. It's that he simply doesn't show the Steelers have more than anyone else. Ben Roethlisberger allegedly assaulted a woman in a public restroom and another in a Vegas hotel? I'll see your alleged double rape and raise you a Ray Lewis alleged double murder. Santonio Holmes tests positive for something, suspected to be pot? I'll reraise you a Jamal Lewis cocaine deal. Jeff Reed got drunk and disorderly? I'm all in with a Donte Stallworth dui manslaughter. And while the three Steeler examples were just the last three years vs. the Ravens over a decade, the article was really talking about the past 41 years.

The Ravens aren't the only other team with skeletons in their closet. I won't list them all, it's not my job to prove it. But only because I'm not trying to prove that the Steelers do or do not have more issues than any other team. I'm simply trying to show that Fleming did a terrible job proving that the Steelers do.

The second problem is that Fleming doesn't even do a great job pointing out all those skeletons. As an analyst, if there's one thing that irritates me to no end, it's lying with statistics. And while this isn't statistics he's exactly using to completely falsify his point, it's the same logic.

At the heart of Fish's 2009 investigation was the revelation in 2007 that Dr. Richard Rydze, a longtime member of the Steelers' medical staff, had been questioned by federal authorities after supposedly using a personal credit card to purchase six-figures worth of human growth hormone. According to published reports, Rydze said he purchased the HGH for his elderly patients. His ties to the team were cut four months after his name was identified in news reports. There was no proof that Rydze ever provided the drug to players.

This incident was followed by off-the-field problems involving, among others, Santonio Holmes, Jeff Reed and Roethlisberger. Holmes was traded to the Jets before the season and Reed was cut in November. Among the many admirable qualities of the Steelers, and especially the Rooney family, is the club's habit of cutting loose troublemakers in a league normally governed by a sliding scale of morality.

The implication couldn't be more clear. The reader is left to draw the following line:
Rydze purchased tons of HGH --> Rydze worked with the Steelers --> Steelers players got in trouble --> Rydze probably provided HGH to the Steelers despite it never being proven

But how can you draw such a conclusion? How can he even make such an implication? Holmes tested positive for a banned substance, but it was never shown to be HGH, and given his history it was in fact far more likely to be marijuana. Reed had issues with alcohol, not performance enhancers. Roethlisberger was accused of assault, not doping. The classic lying with statistics example many professors use goes like this:

In summer, ice cream consumption rises.
In summer, rate of rape rises.
Ice cream causes people to rape.

Fleming doesn't outright state those issues are proof of Rydze providing HGH to the Steelers. But the implication is there, and he should be called out for it.

So are the Steelers a dirty team? Maybe, it really depends on what you believe makes a team dirty. Given all the trouble they've had on and off the field, sure, you could argue they are. But are they any dirtier than most other NFL teams? Fleming certainly hasn't proven it, and I don't see any reason to believe they are.


  1. I think the first and biggest problem involves what Fleming is trying to prove. In this case, he's trying to prove that the Steelers are "one of the dirtiest" organizations in football. This suggests that the Steelers have done more bad "stuff" .

  2. Not sure if you're implying the steroids history is more of an indictment, or if you're agreeing with the point of my argument. If it's the former, I'm ignoring the steroids use issue. They were legal back then, and the Steelers were hardly the only team that used them.

  3. The article is interesting, but like you said, it surely doesn't provide any actual evidence other than the anecdotal stuff that he reviews from his experiences with the team. What if he had been covering the Dallas Cowboys in the 80's and 90's? What about the Raiders? Or Cincinnati? I think a lot of teams in the NFL have issues with the players b/c in a lot of cases, they are taking young men (very young, if you really think about it) from low income situations, giving them a ton of money at age 22, and telling them to behave. I didn't behave a 26, and I surely didn't have $25MM in my pocket. Plus, there is probably a bit of the Tiger Woods syndrome going on - when you are among the best in the world at what you do, who can tell you what TO do? Or that what you are doing is wrong?

    One other quick thought on something he missed in the article - do the teams reflect the "personality" of the city they represent? In this case, in Pittsburgh, you have a very hard (grunt) working people, who work hard then go home and drink hard and party hard. And yes, the Rooneys are very charitable and friendly and mostly loving, but the money they used to buy and support the team came from gambling on cards and horse racing?

    Anyway, an interesting point counterpoint here.

  4. Agree that he doesn't prove the Steelers are one of the dirtiest teams, but disagree on your second point. I don't think he's trying to imply anything other than a sequence of events.


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