Unique events can change the cultural mindset of a whole group of people. One of those events happened on Sunday, September 24th, 2017.
On that Sunday, most people in the Steeler Nation were looking forward to the game with the Chicago Bears. We were 2-0, and there was great anticipation for a successful season. Then like a cultural A-bomb, the unthinkable happened. In response to a difficult situation in which the team found themselves, the players decided not to go out on the field for the National Anthem.
The reaction was swift and direct. People were shocked, disappointed, hurt, and yes, even a little angry. My wife and I turned our TV off; we could not continue to watch the game. Something happened that was bigger than football. I am seventy-one years old. I have followed the Steelers since I was a little boy and for the first time, I did not care whether they won or lost.
I have listened to the explanation of Coach Tomlin and the players. I understand why they did what they did. But, just because they wanted to do the right thing does not mean they did the right thing. In an interview with the press the day after the game, Ben Roethlisberger, capsulized the problem. He said, and I paraphrase, we wanted to be on the field, but we wanted team unity also. They chose team unity over honoring the country. Life is all about priorities. When we prioritize lessor issues over greater ones, everything starts to fall apart. When you try to placate everyone, you end up pleasing no one. Issues are often not about absolute right or wrong. Of course, racial prejudice is wrong, and players should be able to express their opinions about it. But how and when they do it, and what they denigrate in that process are also important.
The day after the game I told my wife that I felt like I have lost an old friend. She agreed. The fans of western Pennsylvania do not love the Steelers just because we have won six Super Bowls. I go back to the 1950s where we rarely crossed the fifty-yard line. Yet, we still loved the Steelers. The Steelers were about a way of life. They represented hard-working people like steelworkers and coal miners. Individuals who loved their families, their country, and God. What Steeler fans saw that Sunday, or more correctly, what they didn’t see, fractured that image. Whether you want to believe it or not,
many have seceded from the Steeler Nation.
I have seen comments by players that seem to take partial responsibility for this public relations nightmare. By and large, though, the comments by the players and those associated with the team, have been long on justification and short on contrition. The Steeler organization, from the top down, needs to take responsibility for this situation. They need to admit that no matter what their motive was, they made the wrong choice. Many on social media are saying they will never don Steeler paraphernalia again. Personally, I will never say never. There is always room for grace. The people of the Burgh are a forgiving people. Saying that I fear that if the leadership of the Steelers, both on the field and in the front office, don’t own up to their mistake, we may never see a united Steeler Nation again. Mr. Rooney, Coach Tomlin, and Team Captain Ben we appreciate all you have done for this franchise in the past. In relation to this current controversy, in doing what you thought was good, you missed the best. Give us our old friend back again.