Some time around the mid-2000s, the National Football League tweaks its rules stipulating who can own franchises and by what percentages they can be considered majority owner. For the Pittsburgh Steelers organization, that meant that changes in ownership became mandatory, and after a couple of years of quiet discussion, plans began to unfold in 2008.
Between Dan Rooney and his four brothers, the Rooney family held an 80 percent stake in the Steelers, with the other 20 percent retained by the McGinley family, who are related. But several of Rooney’s brothers held ties to gambling enterprises—you might recall the story of how Art Rooney made part of his fortunes at the track—which came in violation of new restrictions.
While Dan and his son Art Rooney II sold off their interests in such enterprises, other sibling chose to do the opposite and began selling off their shares to a number of different investors, while Art and Dan were required to own at least a 30 percent stake to remain as majority owners.
One of those investors was Jimmy Haslam, a billionaire businessman from Tennessee. Four years later, he gained the opportunity to purchase the Cleveland Browns franchise for $1 billion in 2012, and as part of that transaction he was obligated to sell off his stake of the Steelers.
But those four years that he spent working in tandem in the ownership of the Steelers with Dan Rooney, and subsequently as a rival owner, left an indelible mark on him, and his prior association in cooperation with the Rooney family gives him somewhat of a unique perspective among owners.
Haslam and his wife paid their respects to the Chairman of the Steelers organization, saying in a statement that “Mr. Rooney was a great man and true leader who always put others before himself. His immeasurable impact on the NFL will forever be recognized and his legacy, which includes the Rooney Rule, will continue to guide our league”.
As you likely well know by now given how much has been written here and elsewhere, Dan Rooney had his hands in many of the league’s most important events over the course of the past several decades, something that I would like to outline in a future article.
“Mr. Rooney’s dedication to the NFL is only surpassed by his commitment to his family”, the Haslams wrote. “It was a privilege and we were extremely fortunate to have spent time with the Steelers and to be in the presence of such a world class person like Dan Rooney”.
As has been a universal theme in the tributes paid by everybody who knew him in life, the Haslams concluded by noting how important to his legacy it was of “the way he treated everyone he encountered”. The Steelers gave him the foot in the door to the ranks of NFL owners as an outsider, which helped pave the way for him to acquire his own franchise years later.