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How ARII has destroyed the legacy that Art Rooney, Sr., “The Chief,” built by denigrating the Heinz legacy in Pittsburgh

Updated: Jun 17

The Chief believed in his community — We are Pittsburghers

… renaming Heinz Field was a tremendous blow to The Chief

One of the beautiful parts of the Pittsburgh Steeler legacy is that the founder had one major concern for his team. Hall of Famer Donnie Shell said it best,

“I observed the Rooney family having a great faith in God and always helping in the Pittsburgh community. Many of the Steeler players had a similar faith in God and enjoyed assisting people in the community as well. The Rooney family is a great role model for the players, their families and the NFL.”

“Former Steelers talk about The Chief,” Steeler Takeaways, January 27, 2020

Love of community was one of the greatest legacies for The Chief. However, like so many aspects of the Steeler legacy falling by the wayside, the joy of being a Pittsburgher no longer exists within the Steeler organization.

Two years ago, the current CEO showed how little regard he had for his namesake’s values. Rather than continue with the name Heinz Field, named after one of the most successful and beloved families in Pittsburgh, would no longer carry that name.

It went with the name “Acrisure” even though most people now hate it and it has not ties not has it done any good for the community. It means that ARII cares only about money, not community.

So, for a few dollars, you ignore a bedrock of the Pittsburgh community?

Thumbing its nose at Heinz

Heinz made an effort to bid on it again, but the cost was too great,

“For 2022, while we worked diligently with the Steelers for several months around a new naming rights deal, they found a new partner willing to pay significantly more than we could justify,” Alex Abraham, a Kraft Heinz representative, said in an email.

Kraft Heinz has deep roots in Pittsburgh — H.J. Heinz was born and launched his brand there, and it remains the co-headquarters of the modern company. Acrisure has no such connection.

While co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Greg Williams is a “lifelong Steelers fan,” according to the press release, the insurance company is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Deena Shanker and Carrinton York, “Heinz says new Steelers Stadium deal was ‘significant more than we could justify’,” Bloomberg, July 11, 2022

Heinz's love of community — and nation

Jack Heinz was born early in the 20th Century and built the Heinz business that his father founded into a monolith, but he was also very interested in his community like his father had been.

Born in 1908, Jack Heinz would live to see two world wars, the Great Depression, the vast international expansion of the Heinz Company and a renaissance in the city of Pittsburgh.

His task to lead the company at a time of war was a daunting one. He made five trips to England during the war once when the company’s Harlesden plant was bombed and on several occasions at the request of the British government. He was tapped to assist England with its food shortages and also toured the Netherlands to assist that nation with food aid. Like his father after World War I, Jack was instrumental in assuaging the dire food situation in war-ravaged Europe.

The company under his leadership actively participated in the war effort. The main plant in Pittsburgh was retooled for a time to manufacture glider planes for the Department of the Army and, overseas, the Harlesden plant developed innovative strategies to utilize what food was available in England to its best advantage.

“The Heinz Family,” John Heinz

So, when times were tough, the Heinz company kept the jobs in Pittsburgh when they retooled and helped the country destroy Adolph Hitler.

What a contrast with the current Steelers’ ownership.

Pittsburghers no more

The Chief became a symbol of Pittsburgh even though the teams did not take over successfully on the field until son Dan took over in the 1960s.

It is that symbol of goodness, character, and love of community — of being a Pittsburgher -- that has been lost,

Art Rooney, the patriarch of the Pittsburgh Steelers, embodied the evolution of Pittsburgh sport from its emergence on the sandlots to its coronation as the City of Champions in the 1970s. His team has become a more enduring symbol for the city than the steel it once made.

But Rooney was revered as much for who he was as for the Steelers’ ultimate success. Pittsburghers knew him as a hard-working, hard-playing guy from a tough part of town—the city’s Northside—who never quit on a friend, a slightly devilish yet deeply devout family man with a shock of white hair, thick black-rimmed glasses, and a cigar jammed into the corner of this mouth.

In the somewhat mythic but still essentially accurate saga Pittsburghers have woven out of the strands of Art Rooney’s life, sport is the product of hardworking people and tightknit communities, who value loyalty, who lose but don’t quit, and even when they leave town, remain Pittsburghers.

Rob Ruck, Maggie Jones Patterson, and Michael P. Weber, “Rooney: A Sporting Life.”

Ah yes, how those Acrisure people are “Pittsburghers” through and through. ARII does not care, and the lack of success of his teams since his father left control of the organization is clear.

How far the Steelers have fallen — in character

Art Rooney, Sr. wanted his players to represent themselves well in the community. He stood by his players, disciplined them when necessary, but built them into a community with character,

Character and integrity

However, what the Steelers used to represent was character. They preached that representing the Steelers was special, that they represented something more than a sports franchise. They represented their city, and they did so with pride. If they did not, there were consequences.

Despite this, the team was also humane. When defensive lineman Ernie Holmes shot at a police helicopter back during the Super Bowl years, the team secured psychological help for him. When Hall of Fame center Mike Webster became homeless as a result of his CTE, Dan Rooney aided him in any way possible, financially and otherwise.

As a result, the Steelers developed a reputation as not just a winning franchise, but one that demanded respect for everyone. They had the reputation as a classy organization.

Today, they have fallen so far from that echelon that they have become a symbol of dysfunction. It is a far cry from the early days when despite not having little success, they still represented their city and franchise with dignity and class.

Hugh Brady Conrad, “The Chief must be turning over in his grave,”

I quit watching six years ago

I have been a Steelers fan since 1955 or so, but about five or six years ago, the lack of character from top to bottom just boiled over and I quit watching them.

Listed the reasons

I trace the current problems to a number of issues that were never addressed:

  • Failure to discipline Ben Roethlisberger for his involvement in two sexual assaults more than a decade ago;

  • Failure to exercise discipline by Tomlin

  • Failure to discipline running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount for being caught smoking marijuana before a flight to a preseason game at Philadelphia in Bell’s rookie season

  • Failure to discipline Antonio Brown for televising a post-game talk with Mike Tomlin prior to the New England AFC Championship game that turned into a debacle in 2016, instead giving him the largest contract in the league

  • All of the problems in handling the Le’Veon Bell situation

  • Most important, changing the successful mantra of the franchise from the oft-cites “Defense wins championships” to “Offense even if sporadic means more than defense.”

The Roethlisberger sexual assault saga really hurt, going from Lake Tahoe to Milledgeville, Ga., particularly the reputation of the franchise itself. Rooney promised to discipline him, but did nothing. The league did suspend him, but the team sat on its hands after saying that it would demonstrate to Ben that being a Steeler meant protecting its reputation.

Steeler fans have tried to forget about the incident in Georgia, but many were very upset by the assault against a young college student [charges were not filed because she was intoxicated and would not have been a credible witness — and because her family wanted to drop it because of the embarrassment.]

Hugh Brady Conrad, “The Chief must be turning over in his grave,”

I met Art Rooney Sr. in the Allegheny Club in the former Three Rivers Stadium in 1985. He was very gracious, and since I was coaching football at St. Francis College at that time, he regaled me with stories about how the Stellers wanted to do preseason camp there in the 1930s.

He was a wonderful man.

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