Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney once joked that when you win a lifetime achievement award, it simply means you have been around for a long time.
In the case of Rooney, though, it means something much different. It means he has made a difference in the time he has been around.
Rooney will be honored by the Jackie Robinson Foundation with their Lifetime Achievement Award at it's annual ROBIE Awards Dinner in New York on Monday, March 7, for the difference he has made in the NFL and sports and as the United States Ambassador to Ireland, a position he held from 2009-2012.
“Jackie Robinson was really a leader,” said Rooney, who will be presented the award by Thomas Tull. “All of the abuse he had to take when he first came into the league. He was a great guy, a great person, and knew what he was doing. The game meant so much to him. We talk about the Rooney Rule and what that did was give hope. He came in the league and did so well that he gave guys on their way up hope, that they could make it.
“It’s great to be honored by his foundation, especially when you see all the amazing things he did.”
Rooney, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, has led the NFL Diversity Committee which implemented what became known as the Rooney Rule. The Rooney Rule requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for openings in coaching and senior football operations positions. This year the Rooney Rule is now expanded to require teams to interview women for executive positions as well.
“His life has exemplified everything the Jackie Robinson Award stands for,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “He has always been a man about opportunity; a man about fairness sport can have on society. He has utilized his power for good in those ways. He has been a champion for the cause of minorities and the downtrodden and it’s a special thing.
“He is thoughtful, considerate, strong, and smart. I could go on and don’t know if I could come up with enough to adequately describe the things that encompass who he is as a boss, friend and mentor. He is so much. I think about how are our relationship has influenced me all of the time, a lot less professionally than you would think. I think about his influence from a personal standpoint, the way he has lived his life, the type of husband and father he has been. The type of friend, neighbor and leader in the community he is. He is a blueprint for all of us that are trying to get the most out of our lives and trying to be as impactful and positive as we can for those around us.”
Rooney is one of the founders of the American Ireland Fund, which is dedicated to building bridges of peace, culture, and charity in Ireland and Northern Ireland. He has also funded the annual Rooney Prize for Irish Literature to highlight the work of Irish writers under the age of 40 and been actively involved in charities in the U.S. And his commitment to charities in the Pittsburgh community are too numerous to mention, but include the United Way of Allegheny County, the Salvation Army, the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Catholic Youth Association to name a few.
“Dan is such a quality man,” said Jim Rohr, the former CEO of PNC Financial Services Group. “He is a very bright fellow. He always knows what his objective is. He is tireless in terms of planning and how to get to it. Then when he accomplishes it he is so humble it was like it was an accident or something. He is the most modest man I know. He is truly a wonderful man.
“It’s not a rule, but it’s a custom that the players pick a charity and each of them are involved. You see the Steelers involved in the community, Dan is personally involved in the community. Giving back to the community is something he tirelessly does all of the time. It’s something he just does. He gives back to Pittsburgh. He gives back to his home country. And the passion he has for it and he never takes credit for it.”
Also being honored at the dinner will be cosmetics industry pioneer Bobbie Brown with the ROBIE Humanitarian Award and Vista Equity Partners Founder and CEO Robert F. Smith with the ROBIE Achievement in Industry Award.
The Jackie Robinson Foundation has administered a scholarship program that provides four-year grants and comprehensive support services for high-achieving minority college students. The Foundation also has campaign to build the Jackie Robinson Museum in New York’s Lower Manhattan.