The year 2020 has marked a period of greater unrest in the country than any other that I can recall in my adult life—and for context, I’m 33. More than at any other point in quite a long time, we have seen the real world not just seep into professional sports, but to flood it, in an inevitable and unavoidable way.
Throughout American professional sports, across every major league, we have seen players protest and boycott their games. It’s happened in the NBA, the MLB, the MLS, the NHL. Though they’re not playing right now, some NFL teams have cancelled practices to hold dialogues instead.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are listening and aware of what’s going on, as general manager Kevin Colbert said, following the near-fatal shooting of Jacob Black in Wisconsin days ago. That was followed by the murder of two protesters by an underage militia member in Kenosha by the name of Kyle Rittenhouse, who came from out of state under the guise of maintaining law and order.
Following today’s practice, the first thing that head coach Mike Tomlin did was address the cultural climate under which sports is currently being played—or not being played—and acknowledged that while they did not alter their practice plans, they did talk as a team.
“As a football team, we talked about some things that are going on from a social justice perspective, or had continued conversations there”, he said. “Like I’ve mentioned to you guys several times over the course of this, we desire to have an impact, and more so than statements. We want to be proactive in our behavior and our thoughts. So we had continued conversations, not necessarily in reaction to the most recent events that have transpired”.
Back in June, Tomlin shared the same message multiple times, referring to the organization being behind their players in their actions, provided that they are done so “thoughtfully and with class”. He reiterated that message following the latest incident, now that he is actually around his players.
“I continue to appreciate the hearts and spirits of our player in terms of wanting to participate in and engage in a positive way and express themselves”, he said. “That is their right. Like I’ve said many times, they’ll continue to be supported by us, as long as their efforts are done so thoughtfully and with class”.
“I’m excited about continuing to grow in that area, as is our football team and having an understanding of our platform, and utilizing it in a very positive and constructive way”, he continued, “but also understanding that we’re targets, and our perspectives and our opinions can be weaponized for agendas or against us. We want to move forward thoughtfully with everything that we do. Like we’ve mentioned, we’re excited about being parts of solutions, If we can be, if our blessings allow us to be, and the platform that we have allows us to be”.
From an organizational perspective, however, the only focus right now is on football. The Steelers are gearing up for a scrimmage tomorrow in lieu of having the opportunity to participate in preseason games.