It’s difficult to dispute the Steelers’ logic in releasing running back Chris Rainey, as reported Thursday afternoon by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette, among others. As our Matt Shetler wrote earlier today, Rainey was arrested in Gainesville, Fla., this morning for “simple battery” committed against his girlfriend of nearly a year.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert stated that Rainey’s “actions were extremely disappointing” and that the former University of Florida star would be immediately waived. Last year’s fifth-round pick played in all 16 games for the Steelers, contributing 162 yards from scrimmage and a 26.5-yard average on 39 kickoff returns.
Looking at the above numbers and factoring in a reasonable NFL learning curve, Rainey could easily have been a productive piece of the Steelers offense for years to come. However, the 23-year-old was by no means considered one of the team’s key building blocks for the future.
I write all this because this incident reminds me of a similar legal situation faced by current Steelers linebacker James Harrison in 2008. The former NFL defensive player of the year was charged with assaulting his girlfriend in an argument; like Rainey’s blow-up, Harrison’s domestic dispute seemed involved a cell phone and ended with an open-hand slap.
But no matter the method and minutiae of both cases, it’s striking to see the difference in how the Steelers handled these nearly identical situations. While Rainey was quickly disposed of, Harrison got an opportunity to plead his case to team president Dan Rooney, memorably claiming that the argument with his significant other was over his desire to have their child baptized.
This story understandably tugged at Rooney’s heartstrings, but it doesn’t justify allowing Harrison to continue on with the team with no further disciplinary action. Yes, the Steelers’ relationship with Harrison was certainly more advanced at the time of his arrest compared with Rainey’s brief stay in Pittsburgh. The familiarity factor cannot be discounted in comparing the two situations.
Nevertheless, I can’t shake the feeling that if Rainey had burst upon the scene a contender for AFC offensive rookie of the year, he might have gotten more leeway and at least an opportunity for contrition. To be clear, Rainey has a troubling past involving a stalking charge in 2010 and running afoul of the law in a Washington, Pa., casino last month.
There are many factors to weigh in this case. I would’ve dropped Rainey if I were in Colbert’s shoes, but the Steelers have to know that this no-nonsense approach opens them up for criticism in the way they’ve handled domestic violence among their ranks in the past.
Releasing Rainey is quite justified, but it’s equally convenient. We can only hope the Steelers will be just as intolerant of deplorable behavior moving forward.