Watch Tower Rooney Rift Greatly Exaggerated by National Media

The closing of the Steelers ownership restructuring process offers the perfect chance to debunk the rumor of the Rooney family feud.

The story that the Rooneys were not only restructuring the Steelers ownership but that Dan’s four brothers might sell their shares to Wall Street tycoon Stanley Druckenmiller took Steelers Nation by storm little more than 13 months ago.

Three story lines dominated the coverage: The NFL was forcing the Rooneys to do this because their race track interests conflicted with league anti-gambling rules, the Rooney brothers, all in their 70’s, needed to plan their estates, and there were differences within the Rooney family as how to work out the situation.

Decoding Sports Journalism Today

The ensuing weeks and months provided a case study into how to decode journalism today.

From the beginning, certain facts were clear.

  • The Steelers were restructuring both at the league’s behest, and in the interest of estate planning
  • One of the younger Rooney brothers had contacted Drukenmiller, who was very interested in buying controlling interest in the Steelers
  • Dan Rooney and Art II wanted to maintain control

Although the two sets of Rooneys did issue dueling press releases, neither release was incendiary, nor did either contain latent threats or hidden time bombs.

That didn’t stop the media from writing about a “family feud.” Newspapers and websites published a plethora of articles to that effect. Many, generally from the national media, spoke volumes about the growing estrangement inside the Rooney Clan. And what do you know, few of these articles cited any sources on the record!

….Back at the Farm

Meanwhile back in Pittsburgh, Post-Gazette reporters Ed Bouchette and Gerry DuLac along with the Tribune-Reviews Carl Prine published their own stories. Certainly they reported that the restructuring was causing tension inside the family. If memory serves, Carl Prine unearthed some details about a few specific moments.

But these reporters also got plenty of people on the record who generally reported that while this transition was complicated and difficult, there was little real bad blood between the brothers.

For his part, Druckenmiller stayed out of the press, instead delegating unnamed third parties to speak on his behalf. As Steel Curtain Rising observed a little over a year ago, Druckenmiller sought to portray his acquisition as imminent and inevitable. Ultimately neither came to pass.

Five Brothers, One Family

When news broke that the Rooneys had agreed in principle to a deal what would leave Dan and Art II with controlling interests in the Steelers, with Art Jr. and John retaining reduced stakes, and with Tim and Pat Rooney selling out, Dan Rooney downplayed any rumor of strife, saying that fights with his brothers over this hadn’t been any worse than fights over anything else.

By that point Dan’s version of events was certainly credible, but Steel Curtain Rising took a final step by asking Ed Bouchette if he bought Rooney’s explanation. Bouchette responded:

Ed Bouchette: Yes, because I’ve talked to all of the brothers and I know that to be the case. You want a bitter family feud, this was not close. Remember, those same people who talked about it being bitter might have been the same ones telling you Michael Vick would land in Pittsburgh.

Story That Needs to Be Told

They say nothing sells a paper like a crisis, and my own experience with this blog has shown just how easy it is to attract attention with negative headlines.

But the story of five brothers each sacrificing a little to come to common agreement over how to keep an 800 million dollar asset in the family is a good story in its own right.

It might not generate the buzz that a sexy squabble between warring brothers does, but it is the kind of story that needs to be told.

And Steel Curtain Rising tips the hat to those who did so.

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