The nation's first African-American president shared a special relationship with the trailblazing owner.  AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Former President Barack Obama released a statement on Wednesday after former Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney passed away.

“Dan Rooney was a great friend of mine, but more importantly, he was a great friend to the people of Pittsburgh, a model citizen, and someone who represented the United States with dignity and grace on the world stage,” reads the statement “I knew he’d do a wonderful job when I named him as our United States Ambassador to Ireland, but naturally, he surpassed my high expectations, and I know the people of Ireland think fondly of him today. And I know the people of Pittsburgh, who loved him not only for the Super Bowl championships he brought as the owner of the Steelers, but for his generosity of spirit, mourn his passing today. Michelle and I offer our condolences to the Rooney family, some of the most gracious and thoughtful people we know — even as we celebrate the life of Dan Rooney: a championship-caliber good man.”

Obama is the latest in a long line of people who have mourned Rooney’s passing (more on that here). Perhaps one of Rooney’s greatest enduring legacies to the game of football is the “Rooney Rule,” which mandates that teams interview at least one minority for head coaching or senior football operations vacancies.

Though the rule has become controversial in recent years, it undoubtedly opened the door for a swath of deserving candidates, including Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. Few people in the NFL are willing to fight for inclusion, something that was on display a few years ago when the Rams drafting Michael Sam. What should have been a triumphant moment for the league, turned into a fiasco. Rooney was one of those few, something Obama undoubtedly considered in describing him as “a model citizen.”

Before the Rooney Rule was instituted, there had been only seven minority head coaches in NFL history. Heading into the 2017 season, there will be eight total — a testament to Rooney’s legacy.

Rooney was the ambassador to Ireland during Obama’s first term, as well as donor to his campaign.

He died Wednesday at the age of 84.

This article first appeared on Sportsnaut and was syndicated with permission.

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