Opinion

How to Tell the Truth, Keep Your Principles, and Make Friends

I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I grew up in Pittsburgh, a rabid sports town with championship teams in hockey, baseball, and football. Pittsburgh fans are loyal to a fault. Each time I visit my hometown, I notice more people wearing sports memorabilia than in any other city, although New York may be an exception. While in Europe for the past three weeks, I see people from all over the world wearing baseball caps emblazoned with the New York Yankees logo.

I bring this up because “Dan Rooney, who succeeded his father and Steelers founder, Art Sr., as team president and rose to become one of the most powerful and beloved owners in sports, died Thursday at the age of 84.

One thing I dislike about professional sports is tax-payer-funded stadiums. The Atlanta Braves built a new stadium using money from taxpayers who did not want to pay for a professional sports team stadium, especially since professional baseball is a multi-billion dollar business.

We’re often told how such stolen money is an investment in the community. If this is true, then why not let people invest their money voluntarily in the project and pay them a return on their investment.

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My good friend Jerry Bowyer, a Pittsburgh resident, and a like-minded advocate of free market economics, describes an encounter he had with Dan Rooney over the construction of a new stadium.

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In 1997, I had a fight with Dan Rooney. He was supporting a referendum to raise taxes on the region which would finance, among other things, a new stadium for the [Pittsburgh] Steelers. I was campaigning against the tax hike (to refresh your memory, the tax hike referendum failed in all 11 counties and the stadiums were constructed with a combination of more private money and using existing taxes rather than new taxes). One of the debates took place at WQED studios, and Dan walked up to me and said, “They told me you were a liar, but now I’ve seen it for myself.”

I asked him what he meant and he mentioned some fact that I had allegedly lied about in my remarks. I told him that I had said no such thing, and challenged him to go back and watch the tape and if he could show me that I had indeed stated something not true, I would concede the point publicly. He agreed. We shook on it and he walked away.

Some time later, Dan Rooney and I talked again. He told me that he had indeed watched the tape, and that he had misheard me, and that I had not lied. He surprised me and was a real gentleman about it.

About a month after the referendum was defeated, I started calling the people who had been on the other side of the issue from me to ask to meet with them, to talk about moving forward together in a better direction. I met with several of the biggest CEOs in the region. Some acted like petulant children, Tom O’Brien, CEO of PNC was one of those. Threats, pouting, rudeness.

Most others were gentlemen: Tom Usher from USX, Marty McGuinn from Mellon, Paul O’Neil from Alcoa come to mind. Eventually, the time came to meet with Dan Rooney. We got together one-on-one at a small diner on North Side. He was a real gentleman. Just a prince of a guy. It happened that on that particular day a photographer from the Post-Gazette was shadowing me (with my permission) for a profile they were doing on me. So he got some nice photos of Dan and me together.

It appeared on the front page of the Sunday paper.The profile was unsympathetic but the pictures told a different story. The photographer talked to me that day and told me that he would undo with his pictures all the damage the writer would do with his words (by the way, the writer, Dennis Roddey and I ended up becoming friends out of that experience).

The profile was unsympathetic but the pictures told a different story. The photographer talked to me that day and told me that he would undo with his pictures all the damage the writer would do with his words (by the way, the writer, Dennis Roddey and I ended up becoming friends out of that experience).

I asked Dan if it was okay if the reporter took some shots and with the wave of a hand, he said it was fine, no problem at all. His PR guy, John Verbanac from Brabender/Cox called me later that day and was angry because photos had been taken. I told him that I had not planned it that way, that the reporter had already been scheduled in advance that day, and that Dan had given his permission.

John said, “Do you expect me to believe that it’s a coincidence that a photographer from the paper just happened to be spending the day with me the same day I was meeting with Dan Rooney??” I told him that I didn’t really have any expectations about whether he would believe me, but that I was telling the truth. I invited him to check with the paper for himself. Which I think he did and did end up working together after that.

I don’t know if we have that picture around anywhere. I don’t keep pictures of people I’ve met around. I go to people’s offices and they’ve got pictures with sports figures, politicians, etc. I’ve spent time with a Vice President, probably two dozen cabinet members, some governors, senators, etc. But I didn’t keep any pictures. I thought, the thing to carry with me was whatever wisdom I learned from them. But today I kind of wish I had that picture where I was sitting across the table from Dan Rooney, not because he’s famous, but because it was a nice lunch with a nice guy who had once been an opponent.

Dan Rooney, Requiescat in Pacem.

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