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Lifelong Steelers Fan, But Will I Keep Watching?

By Gary F. Zeolla

 

      After I got home from competing in APF/ AAPF Ohio State Powerlifting Championships on September 9, 2017, I had a picture taken of me holding my trophy. At the time, I was wearing a Steelers T-shirt and a Jesus/ fish necklace. I posted that picture at the end of my contest report with the comment: “I really like this picture. It combines three things that are important to me: powerlifting, the Steelers, and my Christian faith.” Below is the picture. Click for a larger image.

      In fact, I have been a lifelong Steelers fan. Growing up in the Pittsburgh area in the 1970s, when the Steelers won four Super Bowls, how could I not be? Now admittedly, the Pirates are my first love, who won two World Series in the ‘70s. Since then, the Steelers have won two additional Super Bowls, while the Pirates, well, I'll get to that later. But along the way, I have also become somewhat of a Penguins fan, with the Penguins winning five Stanley Cups. I mention all of this so that the reader knows that watching the three Pittsburgh professional sports teams is something I very much enjoy.

      However, I am now in a quandary as to whether I will continue to watch the Steelers and the National Football League (NFL) in general, as both of their handlings of the National Anthem issue has been atrocious.

 

The Background

 

      Unless you have been living in a cave the past week or so, you know that NFL players have been kneeling or sitting during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. It all began last year (2016), when Colin Kaepernick first knelt for the National Anthem. He says his reason for doing so was, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color” (Wikipedia).

      At that time, I thought that was just plain ridiculous. Here was a guy who was being paid millions of dollars to play a game claiming he was being oppressed. In no other country would he be given such an opportunity. That is not oppression, it is opportunity. And that is what Colin should be touting, that you can make it in the United States no matter your circumstances, if you just work hard and obey the law.

      I remember thinking, “If a Pittsburgh Steeler were to try this trick, the Rooneys would kick him out on his ear.” The Rooney family have been the owners of the Steelers as long as there has been a Pittsburgh professional football team, going back to their founding in 1933 when they were known as the Pirates. The name was changed to the Steelers in 1940.

      In any case, I say this as the Rooney family has never put up with any kind of shenanigans on the part of any Steelers players. Over the years, several players have been let go when they have had scrapes with the law or other moral indiscretions. As such, I just assumed the Rooneys would not put up with a member of the Steelers dissing the country. And that is what Colin was doing by kneeling during the National Anthem, dissing the country that had given him such a great opportunity.

      Since, then Colin lost his job as quarterback for the 49s and is now out of work. Maybe if he had focused on training and not on political statements, he would still be playing in the NFL. And yes, that is what happened, his level of play dropped. That is why he is out of work. It is not because “he was being blackballed because of his on-field political actions” as some are claiming.

      That has been proven by more recent events, as none of the players taking a knee during the National Anthem have been fired, and that very inaction on the part of the owners is the source of my quandary. Rather than these millionaire athletes being rebuked by their owners and coaches for their antics, they are being supported in them, and that includes Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL.

 

Their Salaries and Playgrounds

 

      Did I mention that these players taking a knee claiming they are being oppressed are being paid millions of dollars to play a game? That is what makes this situation so ludicrous. In no other country would they be so rewarded to play a meaningless game. Rather than protesting, they should be thanking the LORD that they live in such a great, free, and prosperous country that they are enabled to be so richly rewarded for doing something that in the end is of so little importance.

      More to the point, the salaries of professional athletes has been a sore point with me ever since Mario Lemieux signed a 7-year, $42 million contract back in 1992. Sure, he had just led the Penguins to back to back Stanley Cups, but that still seemed to be an insane amount to pay someone for playing a game. I remember a news report at the time calculating how many thousands of years the average person would have to work to make that kind of money. I forget the exact number, but it was outlandish.

      Since then, the salaries have really gotten out of hand, with some athletes making hundreds of millions of dollars in the course of their playing careers, though the average NFL salary is “only” $2.4 million a year. Compare that to the less than $42,000 the average infantryman in the US army makes. But it is the latter that is doing something truly meaningful.

      In fact, it is the latter, the US military men and women, that enable these athletes to have the freedom in the USA to be so prosperous that they are able to make those exorbitant salaries for playing a game and yes to have the freedom to protest the USA. Given that, you would think they would want to stand and honor their country and the brave military that has given them such a great opportunity. Those soldiers are the true heroes. As a retired Marine puts it:

 

      Now I watch multi-millionaire athletes who never did anything in their lives but play a game, disrespect what brave Americans fought and died for. They are essentially spitting in the faces and on the graves of real men, men who have actually done something for this country beside playing with a ball and believing they’re something special! They’re not! My Marines and Soldiers were!...

      Legends and heroes do NOT wear shoulder pads. They wear body armor and carry rifles. They make minimum wage and spend months and years away from their families. They don’t do it for an hour on Sunday. They do it 24/7 often with lead, not footballs, coming in their direction. They watch their brothers carted off in pieces not on a gurney to get their knee iced. They don’t even have ice! Many don’t have legs or arms.

      Some wear blue and risk their lives daily on the streets of America. They wear fire helmets and go upstairs into the fire rather than down to safety. On 9-11, hundreds vanished. They are the heroes (Powers).

 

      In any case, I had gotten a bit disgruntled with baseball back in 1981 when the players went on strike. That strike ended with a salary cap not being instituted, dooming the Pirates and other small markets teams to mediocrity. And sure enough, the Pirates have not won a World Series since then. Then after that, as salaries began exploding, I got turned off of professional sports and did not watch much of the Pirates, Steelers, or Penguins for much of the 80s, the ‘90s, and into the ‘00s.

      Then a real turn off was when the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny county in which the city is located, which is to say we the taxpayers, shelled out over half a billion dollars to build new playgrounds for the Pirates, Steelers, and Penguins in the early ‘00s. With the players making millions of dollars and the owners billions, you would think they could afford to pay for their own playgrounds.

      But we were told that new playgrounds were the only way the teams would stay in Pittsburgh, since other cities were more than willing to pay for playgrounds if they moved there, and in the long run, that would cost the city even more money due to lost tax revenues and the promotion of the city our professional sports teams provide.

      But most of all, the Pirates, Steelers, and Penguins are a unifying force in Pittsburgh, bringing all us yinzers together, and a great source of pride for the city. Therefore, we the taxpayers held our noses and forked over our hard earner money so that millionaire athletes could have new playgrounds to play their games in.

      In a way that did work, as my interest in baseball was rekindled when the All-star Game was played at the Pirates’ newly built PNC Park in 2006, and with it, so was my interest in the Steelers and Penguins. Though part of that was my disgust with much of the rest that is on TV nowadays, but that is another story (see TV and Movies on my Christian website).

      But here, the same scenario has been repeated across the country, with cities shelling out billions to build new playgrounds for their various sports teams. But now, these guys who make millions of dollars for playing a game cannot even respect the country and its citizens that makes their prosperity possible and stand for our National Anthem.

      It is truly a kick in the face of their fans. And that is why the ratings and attendance of games are down, why the players have been getting booed at games, why sales of NFL merchandise are down, and why former fans have even been burning their NFL memorabilia.

 

The President’s Comments and Tweets

 

      All of this came to a head starting on Friday, September 22, 2017 when President Trump bought up the kneeling of NFL players at a rally in Alabama. He said the NFL should fire those S_ o_ B___s who kneel during the National Anthem. I do not support the language President Trump used, but I fully support his sentiment.

      What occasioned his comments was probably the Cleveland Cavaliers saying they would not be going to the White House to be honored for their basketball championship. The reason for that refusal was probably the poor image the media has fostered in people about President Trump.

      I won’t go into too many details here, as I do so at length on my politics website, Suffice it to say, the media truly hates Trump and has been doing everything it can to paint him as a racist, a sexist, a liar, as being an incompetent boob, and anything else negative they can make up about him. And that has continued with this controversy, with the media saying Trump only bought up this subject because the players who are protesting are black, and he is a racist. As proof, they point to him not berating Tom Brady (a white guy) when he didn’t come to the White House after the Patriots won the Super Bowl earlier this year.

      No matter that President Trump has said repeatedly that it is not about race, the media says that his denial it is about race is like President Nixon saying, “I am not a crook.” The more he denies it, the more it is true. Yes, that is exactly how the media has been spinning it. As for Tom, his mother was battling breast cancer at the time, and he didn’t want to leave her side. That is why President Trump didn’t berate him. But the media doesn’t report that, as it wouldn’t fit their narrative.

      In any case, in response to the Cavaliers’ statement, President Trump rescinded their invitation to the White House. That is probably what set him off on professional athletes dissing the country and thus his statement and tweets about NFL players not standing for the National Anthem.

      But despite this, I was glad to hear the Penguins will be accepting their invitation to go to the White House to be honored for their fifth Stanley Cup Championship. However, Democratic Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto has announced that he will not be going. Given that he had nothing whatsoever to do with the Penguins victory, I don’t know why he thinks he was even invited.

 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

 

      The hatred for President Trump that the media has fostered with its lies about him led to even more NFL players to take a knee or to sit during this past Sunday’s National Anthem, some 200 of them. It seemed like a case of rebellious children, or better, spoiled brats, doing something their parents told them not to just to spite them. Such is the impertinent nature of people who get paid millions of dollars to play a game.

      The worst was the Baltimore Ravens. I have no love loss for them to begin with given they are the archrivals of the Steelers, but now I really do not like that team. They were playing in London, and the entire team took a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner, but then they stood for God Save the Queen! Thus, they thought it appropriate to honor Britain by standing during its National Anthem, but to dis American by kneeling during ours. I guess they forgot their history, that it was Britain that we fought a war against to win our independence from and that it was during a second war with Britain that the Star-Spangled Banner was written.

      Whatever happened to the principle that Americans should keep our squabbles within our borders, just like a family keeps its fights within itself, while coming to the defense of any family member who gets disrespected by those outside of the family? That used to be the American attitude, that is, until President Obama went on his “apology tour” to start his presidency. Since then, it seems appropriate to many Americans to insult America while on foreign soil.

      Then there was the action of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. They were one of three teams that stayed off the field during the playing of the National Anthem. But there was one exception for the Steelers, tackle Alejandro Villanueva. He is a former Army Ranger, having finished three tours in Afghanistan. He stood outside of the tunnel, hand over heart, during the National Anthem, while the rest of the team hid back in the tunnel.

      When I first saw it, I thought it was a good idea, as I thought it was planned that way. Having a vet represent the team while keeping the rest of the team off of the field so that no one would disrespect the country seemed like a good way to handle the controversy. But I later found out, that it was not planned.

      As it turned out, the team held a meeting Saturday night. And apparently, there were several players who wanted to take a knee during the Anthem. Right then and there, how the Steelers should have handled it was to tell those players that if they knelt or sat during the Anthem, they might as well stay on the ground as they wouldn’t be playing in the game. That is how the Rooneys of old would have handled it. But I guess Art Rooney II doesn’t have the same respect for the country that his father, Daniel Rooney, the former Steelers owner and US ambassador to Ireland, had.

      As for Alejandro, he says it was just an accident that he was standing out of the tunnel alone during the Anthem. He had gone out to watch the unfolding of the flag, and the Anthem started sooner than he thought it would. Rather than turning his back on the Anthem and going back into the tunnel, he stood for it as a good soldier is trained to do. But he later apologized for “throwing his teammates under the bus.”

      All of this makes what the Steelers did very upsetting to many Steelers fans, this writer included. There have even been Steelers fans who have been burning their Steelers jerseys. One such person, a veteran, was interviewed on Fox News’ morning show. He said he had been a Steelers fan since 1969, but no more. Meanwhile, sales of Steelers memorabilia have so plummeted that some Steelers memorabilia stores have hit on hard times.

 

The NFL’s Rules and Demonstrations

 

      As bad as how the Steelers have handled this situation, the NFL has done an even worse job by doing nothing, except to support the players supposed “right to protest.” More on that shortly, but first, the NFL own rules contradict the NFL’s response. But first, to be clear, it is not the NFL Rulebook as some have been saying that governs player conduct during the National Anthem but the NFL Game Operations Manual. It states:

 

      The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem.

      During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition. It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses (Time, bloding added).

 

      Roger Goodell has seized on the word “should” as the reason he is tolerating players who kneel during the Anthem. Since it doesn’t say “must,” he says he is not obligated to stop them. It does however say that players “must” be on the field during the Anthem. But Roger has seized on the word “may” (not “will”) as to why he has not fined the Steelers, Seahawks, and Titans for staying off of the field during the Anthem. Thus, Roger is playing word games to justify his inaction and support of the protests.

      Meanwhile, he is saying he supports the players right to protest and to express their opinions on political matters. Yes, we as Americans have the right to protest our government. But the First Amendment only says that Congress will not make any law preventing free speech. It has nothing whatsoever to do with how private businesses govern the behavior of their employees. And the NFL governs the behavior of its employees, the players, in every other way.

      The NFL has rules as to how players must dress on game day, what they can and cannot display on their uniforms, how they conduct themselves after scoring a touchdown, and even has moral clauses for off-field behaviors.

      The Dallas Cowboys were not allowed to wear emblems on their helmets to honor the five Dallas police officers who were slain while protecting a Black Lives Matter rally last year. RGIII was not allowed to wear a T-shirt with the words, “No Jesus, no peace” during a press conference. Another player could not keep on wearing pink shoes after October to honor his mother who was battling breast cancer. Other players wanted to wear purple cleats to honor victims of domestic violence, but were not allowed to do so.

      And on it goes, many other attempts by players to express their opinions on various matters have been rebuffed by the NFL. As a private organization, the NFL fully has the right to do so, but it is disingenuous for it to say they are not stopping this demonstration out of respect for their players’ right to express themselves when it has stopped so many others.

     

The Tradition

 

      The tradition of playing the National Anthem for sporting events dates all the way back to May 15, 1862, when the Star-Spangled banner was played “at Union Base Ball and Cricket Grounds in Brooklyn, New York, during the opening game played there” (Steelers.com). That was of course during the Civil War. The tradition was started as a means of unifying the then very divided country, and it has remained a unifying force ever since. No matter how much we might bicker over political and other matters, we all used to stand united in our respect for the Greatest Nation on Earth.

      But now, that respect has dwindled to the point that many Americans no longer respect this great nation and no longer think it is in fact the greatest nation on earth. The reasons for that decline are outside the scope of this article, but situations like what is happening in the NFL do not help matters. And that is what makes the NFL’s front office’s refusal to do anything that much more distressing.

      For that matter, sporting events themselves have always been a unifying force in American. No matter what your political views, your religion, your economic situation, or whatever, we could all stand united in rooting for the home team, while watching sports was a break from all of the bickering. But now that the NFL has allowed politics to infiltrate football, even that has been taken away.


Conclusion

 

      Did I mention that the players taking a knee during the National Anthem are being paid millions of dollars to play a game? I wanted to be sure the reader did not forget that point, as it is what makes this whole situation so absurd. Stand up and thank the country, the brave soldiers, and the fans that make that possible you thankless millionaires!

      Since last Sunday, the Steelers have issued statements and held press conferences to try to reconcile the situation, and Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey has come out saying he expects all Steelers players to stand for the Anthem this coming Sunday (10/1/17). Several other teams have issues similar statements, and in Thursday’s night game, all of the players stood for the National Anthem. But to many Steelers and other team’s fans, it too little too late.

      As for myself, I will see what happens when the Steelers play the most disrespectful team of all, the Baltimore Ravens, this Sunday and then decide if I will keep watching the NFL or not. But even if all the players stand, I will probably still switch over and watch the final Pirates game of the season and wait until the following Sunday to decide what to do about the Steelers.

      But whatever I do, this whole situation has been a disgusting display for all involved and has further divided our already fractured nation. For that reason, it will have lasting detrimental effects on the nation. And that is why it is so regrettable.

 

References:

      Business Insider. Here Are The Highest Paid Athletes Of All Time.

      ESPN. Maurkice Pouncey expects all Steelers players will stand for anthem Sunday.

      ESPN. Steelers owner Art Rooney II: Team's action was not anthem boycott.

      ESPN. Steelers, Seahawks, Titans remain in locker room during national anthem.

      Powers, Ret. Marine Col. Jeffery Powers. Letter to the NFL commissioners. Forwarded to this writer by my brother.

      Steelers.com. Labriola on anthem history, James vs. Ravens and various other articles.

      Time. Does the NFL Require Players to Stand for the National Anthem?

      Wikipedia. Colin Kaepernick.

      Wikipedia. History of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

      Wikipedia. Roger Goodell.

      Plus, the various news reports, interviews, press conferences, and radio talk shows I listened to on this subject in late September 2017.

 

Lifelong Steelers Fan, But Will I Keep Watching?. Copyright 2017 by Gary F. Zeolla.



The above article initially appeared in the free FitTips for One and All email newsletter.

It was posted on this Web site September 30, 2017.

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