The 2020 season will be defined, at least we can hope, by three things: the coronavirus, social justice, and hopefully, some football as well. The former will play the deciding factor in whether or not the latter will be possible, but the one in the middle seems likely to be ongoing regardless of the influences of either of the other two.
A lot of people won’t like it. Others will. But by now it’s become abundantly clear that we should expect it as part of our football experience, at least to some degree. At this point, I would find it surprising if there isn’t some form of protest taking place on every sideline throughout the season.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin already made it clear that he expects his team to be no exception, and that he supports his players in however they choose to express themselves, including but not limited to kneeling—provided that what they choose to do is done thoughtfully and with a mind toward fostering change.
Cameron Heyward, one of the team’s captains, also talked about this subject recently with the team’s website. “I think we want to stay united in what we do and what we want to accomplish”, he acknowledged. He also talked about the significance of making an impact that is bigger than football.
“Coach T has always told me, going to the Super Bowl is not enough in the city of Pittsburgh”, he said. “We want to leave lasting change among our community as well. For us, we’re gonna have those opportunities to branch out and be individuals and affect our community”.
As has become an inseparable part of the conversation, Heyward also discussed how the climate has shifted from 2016 and 2017, when peaceful protest was under fire along NFL sidelines, with Colin Kaepernick in the crosshairs.
“It was harder, because I felt like protesting, and nobody really paid attention to the issues that Colin Kaepernick was talking about at the time”, he said. “They were mostly concerned with what he was doing rather than his message”.
“I think this time around, you see the evidence and you see what the was talking about. It wasn’t like he was just blowing up smoke. These are real issues that really affect our communities, and this it a chance for a lot of guys to speak up”.
As Tomlin has no doubt told his men a dozen times by now, though, the work doesn’t end on the football field. If they want to genuinely see changes made, they have to help by being active, being in the community, working on making improvements where they have reach, and building connections where they do not.