Despite having been eliminated from the playoffs weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers organization has been dragged back into focus leading up to the Super Bowl thanks to an ESPN report published earlier today raising concerns over a potential conflict of interest relating to Lieutenant Jack Kearney, a sheriff’s deputy in Allegheny County.
Since 2001, Kearney has also been employed by the Rooney family to serve as the head of security for the Steelers, and in that capacity, he has garnered nicknames such as “The Cleaner” and “The Fixer”.
First, allow me to be clear: every organization in the league has their own ‘fixer’, their head of security, who fulfills a role similar to that of Kearney’s, and they tend to be either active duty or former law enforcement officers. In other words, this is a league-wide phenomenon—indeed, it surely extends well beyond the sporting world as a whole.
That it is a practice that is widespread, of course, does not diminish the significance of the issue as a whole, nor of the particulars of the case being put forth against Kearney, which includes anonymous accusations among his law enforcement co-workers that his employment by the Steelers creates a conflict of interest.
Kearney was, for example, intimately involved in the handling of the Mike Adams incident in the summer of 2013, during which the offensive lineman was stabbed in the early morning hours after a night of drinking.
Kearney was notified by the reporting officers of what happened and was on the scene and speaking with Adams, coming out of surgery, as soon as possible, potentially orchestrating their narrative. He later removed Adams’ truck from the crime scene after it had been released by the chief investigator and returned it to the team’s facility.
The article, written by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, recounts other instances of Kearney assisting Steelers players in ways that either utilize his position as a law enforcement official or could potentially be seen as not in keeping with his primary responsibilities as an officer.
Following one incident, his former chief deputy issued him a letter reminding him “to keep in mind his primary jobs when he is in the sheriff’s office, when he is working with the Steelers”.
To me, that sounds more like a friendly reminder by a peer to keep himself in check, a slap on the wrist punishment for a more serious infraction.
Therein, I believe, lies the problem with such relationships between current or former law enforcement officials and, for example, sports organizations employing them for security purposes. While it makes sense, logistically, to hire somebody of that sort to make use of their resources, it provides for the likelihood of misconduct.
Think of the state of the nation’s capital and the incestuous relationship between politicians and lobbyists, the latter of whom seem largely made up of the former upon retirement. They use their previous connections to influence their success in their new endeavors.
That is precisely what is going on with all of the Jack Kearneys employed by sports organizations and elsewhere. They use their current or previous influence—as Kearney is being accused of doing—in order to further advance and aide their current employers, perhaps to the point of criminal misconduct.
One can make the argument that this practice is ubiquitous to the point of exhaustion, but it will never tally up in the end to a justification. Relationships such as these create an environment in which the recipients of such employ are above the law, which should never be permitted. No, this article certainly isn’t a revelation of new information, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be used as a springboard for a broader discussion, even if nothing comes of it.