At least it’s only Thursday, right?
The Pittsburgh Steelers are dealing with a self-inflicted controversy while preparing for a game on a short week after sending conflicting messages in the days and weeks leading up to the season opener regarding how they would address social justice causes as a team and as an organization. Just a short time ago, it prompted team president Art Rooney II to issue the following statement:
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 17, 2020
It begins by saying that the organization respects “the decisions of each player, coach and staff member relating to how to express themselves on social justice topics”, and acknowledges that “individually we may say or do things that are not universally accepted”.
This comes following an entirely unnecessary controversy following what initially appeared to be a rogue act by one of its players. This year, the NFL has allowed players to wear messages on the back of their helmets pertaining to systemic racism and police brutality, such as the names of victims.
An article on the team’s website stated clearly that “the Steelers players and coaches united as one to wear a single name on the back of their helmets and hats for the entire 2020 season – Antwon Rose Jr.”. This lasted zero games when left tackle Alejandro Villanueva had the name of Alwyn Cashe on the back of his helmet, an Army veteran who sacrificed his life in Iraq in 2005 to save others, and whom some believe has been denied the posthumous awarding of the Medal of Honor in part because African Americans have historically been overlooked for the award.
Over the past couple of days, it has become increasingly evident that the Steelers’ messages of unity were not as clearly communicated to their players as the surface would suggest. Maurkice Pouncey stated earlier today that he would be making his own decisions from now on and that he felt he wasn’t fully informed about the circumstances of the name selected.
Aditi Kinkhabwala also indicated that multiple players told her there was never a team-wide vote held involving all players regarding whether or not to wear a unified message on their helmets or whether to specifically honor the memory of Rose.
As I wrote earlier today, all of this simply could have been avoided had they not attempted to force false ‘unity’ in this regard and allowed players to make their own decisions, not simply about what to wear on their helmet, but whether or not to wear anything, as perhaps every other team in the league had done.
The Steelers created a similarly unnecessary issue for themselves in 2017 because head coach Mike Tomlin wanted his team to present a united front regarding its response to the national anthem following critical comments by the POTUS toward NFL players.
The end result was a lengthy players meeting in which the objective was to decide on what to do that everybody could agree upon. They agreed to remain in the tunnel while the anthem was played, but Villanueva, a veteran of multiple tours of active duty in the armed services, was given clearance to be on the field, which created awful optics.
This caused a number of players to have to address the topic in the media in the week leading up to the next game, but the real issue was the fact that it took time away from preparing for the previous game, and multiple players acknowledged that it did affect the game. The Steelers still won during the opener this year, but they’re nevertheless toting unnecessary mail, as Tomlin might say, because they couldn’t simply present a unified message about whether or not there would be unity.