Okay, I feel obligated – as the resident Pittsburgh Steelers fan – to address the recent issues that have arisen around the team. Remember throughout your reading that I am a die hard fan and always have been. The Steelers, to me, are the epitome of what a franchise should be. They are perennial contenders, loyal to their fans and players, and they play with more heart and toughness than you’ll see in all 5 seasons of “Friday Night Lights.”
So, when I say that I am ashamed of Hines Ward for his DUI arrest, it comes from my heart. I am disappointed that such a great and respected player, team captain, Super Bowl MVP, “Dancing With the Stars” Winner, and all-around stand-up guy would do something to tarnish his reputation so close to the end of his career. I even went so far as to advocate for his induction into the Hall of Fame BEFORE the Steelers went to Super Bowl XLV. There is no defense for what he did, or for anyone who drinks and drives – especially when we all know he could afford a cab.
The next player on the docket will be Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall used Twitter as a means to broadcast his unpopular opinion on the death of Osama bin Laden. Now, as a member of our nation’s military, I had an actual vested interest in the event and had no problem with what he said. We live in America, and the freedom to voice dissenting opinions is something we should all hold dear. Where I take issue with Mendenhall is the he used Twitter as his means to voice the opinion. Look, it is extremely difficult to express complex thoughts and ideas in 140 characters or less. So, if you are trying to incite a debate and increase the discourse on a topic, DON’T USE TWITTER! It will end badly.
Mendenhall gets a pass because no one got hurt or could have gotten hurt by his actions. In fact, I applaud him for expressing an opinion that is so unpopular. Just pick a different venue next time.
That brings me to the last (hopefully) Steeler who has done something stupid since the Super Bowl. This one should come as no surprise. It’s James Harrison. Already labeled the bad boy of the NFL after more than $100k in fines last season, the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year used an interview with Men’s Journal to insult Roger Goodell, use a gay slur, and criticize his teammates for the loss of Super Bowl XLV.
I will address those issues one at a time and also throw in that I have no problem with the picture of him with guns. Guns are not inherently bad and are a constitutional right. He has never been in trouble with the law for illegal possession or use of a firearm, so there can be no issue with the photo.
The matter of insulting Goodell is a moot point as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure he’s not the only player who feels that way, and as we get closer and closer to missing games this season, I doubt he’ll be the last. Everyone knew already that he didn’t like the commish. This was nothing new. It’s not really a story. This is just something for ESPN to use for their 100 quotes that defined 2011. His frustration at Goodell is a perfect illustration of how everyone feels about the lockout.
Onto the homophobic comments. I also give him a pass on this – as I do with pretty much everyone who gets blasted in the media for saying such things. I am not insensitive or anti-gay. However, I understand that many people come from many different backgrounds and were brought up around many different mindsets. Women couldn’t vote until 1920 and still face challenges in getting equal pay for equal work. African-Americans are still discriminated against today even though slavery was abolished in 1865. We still hear people using racial slurs that we have been trying to phase out of the vernacular for decades. The point is, homosexuality is a relatively young topic and these things take time. I don’t condone what was said, but I realize that it may be 50-100 years or longer before those terms stop being used in hateful contexts.
Lastly, I will address Harrison calling out his teammates. You just don’t do that. EVER. For any reason. Anyone who has ever played team sports knows this. You can say those things to their faces and challenge them to do better, but you don’t air your dirty laundry to outsiders. Personally, I blame the offense for losing the Super Bowl. I blame them for every loss on the season. I also acknowledge that football is the ultimate team sport and that you don’t blame individuals when things go wrong. Harrison is a leader on the team and needs to understand that creating bad blood in the locker room is not going to help them get back on top. Finger-pointing is for losers, and no team that makes the Super Bowl is a loser.
Sadly, these three players and Big Ben’s past antics have cast a pall over this otherwise sterling example of professional sports organizations. What concerns me the most is that distractions in the locker room often lead to problems on the field. The Steelers are known for growing their own talent and being a tight-knit group forged through the trials of smash-mouth football. If they lose that camaraderie, there is little standing in the way of their self-destruction.