Denial of locker room games sending the right message

Rob Carr

It's easy to go off about the triviality of banning pool, ping-pong and shuffleboard in the Steelers' locker room, but another Steelers team used an organic situation to bond and develop team camaraderie in the past.

Team camaraderie can be created multiple different ways. A group bonding around a ping pong tournament or a good-natured trash-talking brawl over a game of shuffleboard can accomplish those goals.

So can simply talking about the MLB playoffs or one's college team.

The fact Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stepped in and just locked up the equipment necessary to play pool, ping-pong and shuffleboard in the Steelers locker room - an escalation from the decree issued by the team's veterans earlier in the season when players with four years or less of experience were not allowed to play - evened the playing field, so to speak.

The team is 0-4, and while it's trite to hammer out a column about how the team should be focusing on the game they get paid to play, and not the recreational ones in their locker room, there's still a deeper point in all of this.

The Steelers traveled to Miami earlier than they normally would have for a game during the 2004 season. It wasn't due to the fact rookie quarterback Ben Roelisberger would be starting his first career game; it was due to Hurricane Jeanne, which was bearing down on South Beach as the game loomed in Week 3. It was an impromptu primetime game, as the eye of Jeanne would pass through the area early Sunday morning.

The team flew into Miami, and stayed in their hotel during the hurricane. Seems a bit crazy, to say the least.

The stories that came out of that experience, though, leads one to believe the camaraderie they had the opportunity to build was a driving force behind the Steelers' winning that game, as well as the 13 regular season games that followed it.

They talked about playing cards in the hallways of the hotel - away from windows - in candlelight, and coaches telling stories. The team saw each other through a different lens than they otherwise would have. Those are the kinds of things that bring people close.

This isn't to trivialize the symbol of pool, ping pong and shuffleboard in the Steelers' locker rooms - gifts given to the team after Super Bowl appearances and championships in the past. Banning it from 66 percent of the team delivers the exact opposite effect; it divides the locker room without showing how hard work and proper work gets rewarded.

Just simply shutting them down at least until the team is able to get things back on track is the right decision. While the Steelers won't have the same kind of organic bonding experience like they had in their hotel in Miami in September, 2004, perhaps they can spend some time doing something together anyway.

It can't hurt, they're still 0-4.

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