Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made it clear that running back Rashard Mendenhall should not have posted controversial remarks on his Twitter account in the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden last month. Tomlin made his comments during a wide-ranging interview with Pittsburgh television station KDKA.
Mendenhall's tweets included: "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..."
Referencing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he wrote "We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style." That particular tweet was removed the next day.
Tomlin, who is not allowed to have contact with any of his players during the lockout, was direct when the subject was broached.
"He shouldn't have said it," Tomlin said about Mendenhallâs Twitter comments. "Yes, it is a freedom of speech issue. Yes, he is a young man, and he has a right to his opinion. But sometimes these young men got to understand the positions that they hold and the influence that they have and to be highly sensitive to that.
"I think that, more than anything, in those chain of events, he was not sensitive to the power of his words or his positions on that subject or on any subject. I think life is an education. I think these young men are continually educated to what comes along with being them, and thatâs just an example of it.
"Here's the thing that I think a lot of people miss, is that that kid was 12 years old on 9/11. He doesn't have an idea of what pre-9/11 adult life was like in America. He doesn't understand the ramifications of how life changed in America on that day (be)cause he was a kid."
Mendenhall apologized for his comments two days later via his personal website, writing, "First, I want people to understand that I am not in support of Bin Laden, or against the USA.
"I understand how devastating 9/11 was to this country and to the people whose families were affected. Not just in the U.S., but families all over the world who had relatives in the World Trade Centers. My heart goes out to the troops who fight for our freedoms everyday, not being certain if they will have the opportunity to return home, and the families who watch their loved ones bravely go off to war. Last year, I was grateful enough to have the opportunity to travel overseas and participate in a football camp put on for the children of U.S. troops stationed in Germany. It was a special experience. These events have had a significant impact in my life."
Mendenhall also specifically pointed out the "celebrates death" tweet.
"This controversial statement was something I said in response to the amount of joy I saw in the event of a murder. I don't believe that this is an issue of politics or American pride; but one of religion, morality, and human ethics."
"He made some comments that he probably shouldn't have made at the sensitive time that it was," linebacker James Farrior told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "You can voice your opinions, but you don't want to try to offend people that have strong feelings about that. You've got to think about everybody that's involved."
In addition, Champion dropped Mendenhall as an endorser, even though the sports apparel company had recently signed him to a four-year contract.
Tomlin also addressed the NFL's crackdown on illegal hits and blows to the head, which some -- including linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley -- believe was initiated with the Steelers in mind.
"At times, I've struggled to figure out why we are at the forefront of this discussion, to be honest with you," Tomlin said. "We play football just like everyone else. We're trying to win on weekends. We're going to try to play within the rules when there are rule changes. We adjust like everyone else."
Harrison and Woodley accused the NFL of ruining the game with heavy-handed legislation.
Harrison, whom the league fined $100,000 for flagrant hits last season, tweeted "the people making the rules at the NFL are idiots." He further explained his views in his blog, in which he admitted, "I don't disagree with all of the rule changes," but accused the NFL of picking on the notoriously hard-hitting Steelers.
Tomlin also revealed wide receiver Hines Ward's triumph on "Dancing With The Stars" came as no surprise to him, despite the fact the coach had never seen Ward dance before the television show aired.
"I thought that he would," Tomlin said. "I know competitors. I know how that guy's wired. I knew that he would do everything in his power to prepare himself and perform. I knew the stage wouldn't be too big for him. I thought all of those things kind of weighed in his favor."