Justin Donald Leader

Benefits Professional
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers, Michael Vick, and Change

    Aug 26, 2015

by Justin Leader


Yesterday, 27 years ago on August 25, 1988 Arthur Joseph “Art” Rooney, Sr. also known as the “Chief” passed away.  Yesterday, on August 25, 2015 the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Michael Vick to a 1 year contract.

Let me start by saying that I love the Pittsburgh Steelers.  I have been a fan since the time I was born in 1983 just outside of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  Being raised in the small town of Bedford, I realized quickly that most if not everyone I knew wore their Black and Gold every Sunday just as religiously as each attended Church.   There was and is so much pride in the way we support that team, its players as well as the leadership.  Hearing stories of the “immaculate reception” and the steel curtain defense as a child left me in awe regarding the mystique of the Steelers themselves.  Above all else I remember the lessons taught regarding teamwork, perseverance and leadership more than anything.  The Rooney family has been the majority owners and operators of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team since the formation of the franchise in 1933.  Art Rooney was the founder and owner of the team until his death in 1988.  His legacy and the leadership of the franchise have been one that most teams in my opinion have attempted to duplicate across the National Football League.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, Michael Vick, and Change

In thinking of players like Rocky Bleier, the Steelers management show a side that is empathetic and understanding with an unfaltering belief in the ability of the players.  Often at games this belief and mutual teamwork allowed for Rocky to rise as one of the legends in Pittsburgh Steelers football during the 1970’s.  On the other hand, the Steelers organization is also known for swift action regarding those found guilty of crimes or breaking player the code of conduct.  The first example that comes to mind is that of Santonio Holmes being traded in 2009 after multiple legal issues.  I also believe those overseeing player conduct have a difficult job in assessing the line between what is acceptable behavior, what they can legally and contractually do as well as whether they believe that a player is remorseful, not guilty or able to change after a careless or stupid mistake.  I feel that the management of most organizations be it public or private have to approach their employees in the same manner.  The people I interact with professionally both in the C-Suite as well as HR have tremendous responsibility in making these decisions often daily.

Which brings me to the point of my discussion.  That of giving someone an opportunity, believing in them and whether or not they deserve the chance.  Be it their first or perhaps a second.  Someone who has potentially changed.  I was like much of the Steeler nation right now.  Torn, between the needs of the franchise as well as bringing on board someone who was criminally involved with the killing of dogs.  I am a huge dog lover.  I love all animals in general with the exception of Llamas per my previous blog.  Our family has had both a Golden Retriever named Sandy that was alive for 13 years till passing in 2011 as well as currently a Lhasa Apso named Minnie who is as much a part of the family as we kids are.  Not to mention my cat who happens to be named John Stamos.   It broke my heart to think of the abuse that fighting dogs face as well as seeing it firsthand upon a visit to Philadelphia animal control in 2007.

As I voiced my displeasure yesterday I happened to remember a conversation I had with the former State Director of the American Human Society here in Pennsylvania a few years ago.  Her statements offered a different perspective regarding Michael Vick as well as the impact he has had after serving his sentence.  She had stated that walking into many Schools throughout the state where dog fighting was and still continues to occur she spoke to many students who did not see right or wrong when it came to abuse.  Often her presentations did not receive much in the way of feedback from these kids.  Dog fighting, she explained, becomes ingrained in many cultures.  The competition, bragging rights as well as money that can be won.  While she was totally opposed to any form of animal abuse she explained the way that Vick was able to connect with these kids.  She had multiple engagements where most of these young and impressionable children would look to Vick, hanging on every word as he told his story, his regret and often what he could change had he done things differently.  That experience shared by a professional athlete that made serious mistakes was more powerful than any presentation these kids could see from someone else.

While Vick joining the Steelers will create much of a stir over the coming weeks, I strive to look within myself for forgiveness regarding the human as well as understanding in trusting the leaderships vision for the season. As we strive to be better leaders in our own organizations many considerations such as these must take place.   Anyone that works in Human Resources or is responsible for the employees of a company as well as the direction and future success of an organization will tell you that often these decisions do not come easy. However, I believe that we can gain perspective for this situation by reflecting on our own day to day interactions and duties.  For me personally, not being so swift in my judgement and looking at the bigger picture as well as the impact that mistakes can have.  Not just focusing on the negatives, but perhaps more importantly the life lessons as well as positives that can occur in every situation not matter how terrible.  I can think of no greater quote regarding these thoughts than one by Art Rooney, Jr about his Dad.

My father always used to tell us boys, “Treat everybody the way you’d like to be treated. Give them the benefit of the doubt. But never let anyone mistake kindness for weakness.” He took the Golden Rule and put a little bit of the North Side in it.”