There weren’t a whole lot of NFL teams that came off looking blameless after this weekend’s inchoate deluge of national anthem-dissing. However, of all of the 32 professional football franchises that dot this great and fruited plain, the Pittsburgh Steelers may have ended up looking the worst.
First, the team stayed in the locker room during the anthem, which coach Mike Tomlin said was to avoid making a political statement about the anthem. By, you know, making a political statement about the anthem.
When one Steelers player — former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva — decided to defy the edict and go out for the anthem, he was blasted by Tomlin, yet another piece of proof that the NFL’s countenance of anthem-kneeling has very little to do with “free speech.”
Now, a backlash is building in Pittsburgh and around the country. A scathing column by a female veteran published by the Independent Journal Review on Tuesday summed up just how bad the team looks in the public eye now.
New York Post writer Salena Zito devoted a column Tuesday to describing how betrayed Steelers fans felt by the team’s actions.
Now, Steelers owner Art Rooney II is backpedaling in the most craven way possible. In a letter, Rooney tried to rationalize the team’s decision as being entirely apolitical and urged Steelers fans not to take it out on the team.
“The intentions of Steelers players were to stay out of the business of making political statements by not taking the field. Unfortunately, that was interpreted as a boycott of the anthem — which was never our players’ intention,” Rooney’s letter read, according to Yahoo.
“Our players come from many different backgrounds and are united by what it means to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are active in their communities and participate regularly in events designed to give back to those communities. And they appreciate the support they get from Steelers fans around the country and here at home.
“I also know that our players have tremendous respect for the members of our military services, including their teammate Alejandro Villanueva,” Rooney added. “There was never any desire on the part of our players to show disrespect for our service members.”
“Yesterday, I received an email from a Steelers fan who said tell the players to just play football. That is exactly what they wanted to do. They wanted their sole focus to be on playing the game, while also coming together as a unified team,” Rooney added.
Impressive. There are so many pieces of blazing detritus in that dumpster fire of cowardice that I’m not entirely sure where to begin.
First, let me state the obvious: The idea that the Steelers’ anthem no-show constituted an apolitical act is first-class bunkum. By staying in the locker room and acknowledging that the national anthem is political, you have already made a political statement. You’ve taken one of the core symbols of American unity and, by your action, implicitly stated by your actions that it’s divisive. The attempt to claim otherwise is one of the most preposterous explications of ill-considered behavior I’ve heard in the wake of this weekend’s kneel-o-rama, and that’s saying something.
Second, let’s address this: “There was never any desire on the part of our players to show disrespect for our service members.” Were you able to write that with a straight face, Mr. Rooney? I’m curious, because I imagine it might have been a bit laborious to keep from cracking up at a statement that farcical.
You say this just says after your head coach publicly reprimanded Mr. Villanueva, a man who earned the Bronze Star for his actions in the line of fire, for standing during the anthem. Villanueva was forced to apologize. Your coach wasn’t. That left no doubt in anyone’s mind where your team stood on this matter, no matter how much post facto rationalizing you wish to engage in.
Sadly, that wasn’t even the most ludicrous line in the whole thing. “Yesterday, I received an email from a Steelers fan who said tell the players to just play football,” you wrote, Mr. Rooney. “That is exactly what they wanted to do.”
Well, what does one do before a football game? I’ve only been watching the NFL since I was a kid — roughly 30 years now, I would say. Maybe I’m an amateur at this. Three decades isn’t that long, after all. However, I believe I’ve watched enough that I distinctly remember part of it being taking the field for the national anthem. In almost every weekend where your team “just played football,” Mr. Rooney, they began by taking the field and standing at attention as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played.
This weekend, they didn’t. I leave that out there for summary judgement.
While Rooney’s statement may be the first such pusillanimous mea culpa we’ve seen from an owner, don’t expect it to be the last. See, once the initial rush of media acclaim dies away and the left moves onto something else, they’re going to be left with a lot of furious fans. That’s when they’re going to realize just how little the adulation of the left is really worth.
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