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Dan Rooney, the chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, died yesterday. A lot of the obituaries you’ll see speak of him very highly, and that’s not just because he’s gone now. He did a lot of work behind the scenes, he was a beloved owner, and he’s the reason the NFL now interviews at least one minority when looking for a head coach or general manager — the “Rooney Rule.”

At the same time, it’d be unfair to gloss over one of the more disturbing things he ever said.


In 2008, after the Steelers released a player who had punched his girlfriend, people wanted to know why Rooney kept star linebacker James Harrison on the roster when he had also been charged with assaulting his partner.

Rooney, a Catholic, defended the move by saying Harrison just wanted to baptize his son, and his girlfriend was trying to prevent that. So there.

“What Jimmy Harrison was doing and how the incident occurred, what he was trying to do was really well worth it,” he said of Mr. Harrison’s initial intent with his son. “He was doing something that was good, wanted to take his son to get baptized where he lived and things like that. She said she didn’t want to do it.”

The implication, of course, was that it was okay to hit a woman if she was getting in the way of a religious ritual.

Rooney later issued a statement saying domestic violence would not be condoned in any situation… but then contradicted himself by saying situations would be “considered on a case-by-case basis.” Harrison was never suspended from the team.

I know it’s one blemish in an otherwise successful career, and I don’t think it’s fair to define the man by a single mistake he made (assuming he eventually recognized why his words were so problematic). But it’s not the first time we’ve seen religion used as a cover to justify something we would never accept outside of it.

Not taking your dying child to a doctor is wrong, period. It’s not okay in the name of God.

Genital mutilation is wrong, period. It’s not okay in the name of God.

And domestic violence is wrong, period. It’s not okay in the name of God.

A man who spent his life in the NFL, especially, should have known that.

(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to David for the link)

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.