The fact that Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II issued a statement regarding running back Rashard Mendenhall's tweets following the death of Osama bin Laden has raised speculation that what Mendenhall posted on Twitter might cost him his job.
On Monday, Mendenhall tweeted: "What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side..."
As to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks masterminded by Bin Laden, Mendenhall tweeted, "We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style." That comment has since been deleted from his Twitter page.
Rooney responded for the Steelers on Tuesday, saying, "I have not spoken with Rashard, so it is hard to explain or even comprehend what he meant with his recent Twitter comments. The entire Steelers organization is very proud of the job our military personnel have done and we can only hope this leads to our troops coming home soon."
Two months ago, Mendenhall also jumped into a controversy when he supported Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who remarked that the NFL was ''modern day slavery.''
"Anyone with knowledge of the slave trade and the NFL could say that these two parallel each other," Mendenhall posted on Twitter.
A 2008 first-round pick from Illinois, Mendenhall may be the first serious test of the power of an athlete's employer to penalize a player for what he posts on Twitter.
While I'm not defending what Mendenhall said, he was 14 at the time of the 9/11 attacks. It's possible he didn't read or see anything explaining how the Twin Towers were constructed and why they fell. He wasn't the first to question whether the assassination of bin Laden should lead to dancing in the streets, especially when those images could further incense bin Laden's followers.
Had he left out the "HATE a man they have never even heard speak'' and '''We've only heard one side'' comments, he might not have ignited an uproar. What if he'd posted that he doesn't believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, either? Must everyone feel patriotic about Bin Laden's demise?
Whenever the league year opens, will the Steelers start looking for a replacement for the running back who finished seventh in the league in rushing in 2010?
I wonder if the outspoken Jim Brown will soon have something to say on the subject of Mendenhall. I wonder if someone with radical leanings like Brown would have been given the opportunity to become the greatest pro football player of all time if he'd said what he thought on Twitter.
Pro athletes may take from this a valuable lesson -- Think before you tweet. Yes, Mendenhall's comments reflected poorly on his organization. The Steelers may prove me wrong, but I'm having a hard time grasping the idea that what Mendenhall did was a fireable offense.
UPDATE: On Thursday, Champion announced it was dropping Mendenhall as an endorser, a deal he'd had since 2008. According to NFL.com, Mendenhall signed a four-year contract with Champion earlier this year.
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