We've probably all seen the commercial. They're having a taco party in the office. Guy comes up and says "Don't you think this is something I would like to know. I like tacos." He then goes on and makes something of an ass of himself before he discovers that his assumptions were wrong. You would think that he would immediately apologize but he doesn't. And though the scene ends there you are left with impression that he won't acknowledge his bad behavior.
Some of the sportswriters and several of the Steelers players have pointed out in the last few hours that the behavior of many in Steeler Nation in relation to cornerback William Gay has been pretty much on the same level (if not worse) as the guy in that commercial. They are being subtle, even classy about it, but, make no mistake, they are saying that a lot of people have been acting like jerks. And they are right.
We are certainly entitled to our opinions no matter how wrong headed or misinformed they might be. The Constitution did not outlaw ignorance. And in my opinion, wrong headed as it might be, this is a matter of ignorance, in its most benign and pejorative definitions. There's a lot of evidence that could be cited but let's just take the most recent example. Gay was blamed for the loss to the Ravens last week. This in spite of the fact that Ryan Clark admitted to being out of position and responsible for providing deep help on the play; this in spite of the fact that Ike Taylor had been beaten much more badly by the same receiver a couple of plays earlier, the only saving grace being that the pass was dropped. And there was also the matter of a weak pass rush and the particular defense that LeBeau called. Speaking bluntly, at best the criticisms of Gay represent a decidedly skewed perspective, at worst reveals that the critics simply don't know what they are talking about. That's the benign view, but it can actually be worse than that.
Gay is and has been one of the targets of a particular strain of mob violence. To be sure, we tend to associate violence as a physical act, so at first blush the term may seem to be a bit over the top. But just like abuse has its mental, emotional and psychological components, so too does violence. It even reflects the parameters under which mobs behave in the physical sense; an idea becomes contagious within the group and becomes reinforced to the point where the group accepts it as truth regardless of any evidence to the contrary. In this construction Gay is wrong because he is supposed to be wrong. While we stop short of acts of physical violence to his person or property (though that may yet come to pass, think Tommy Maddox), many in the Nation are comfortable heaping abuse and contempt upon a man who does not deserve it.
We like to talk about The Standard as it applies to performance on the field, but isn't there also a Standard as it relates to personal comportment and extending a certain modicum of respect to the people we deal with in our lives? I characterize myself and have been identified by others as an ‘optimist'. To take a positive approach is not just a predisposition, it is also a discipline. We presume innocence until guilt is indisputable, and even then there is room for compassion. This comes out of a belief that the worst thing that one person can do to another is to castigate them publicly when the allegations aren't true. Don't get me wrong, I do such things myself all too often, part of being human. Its when we dwell on these things, when we marinate ourselves in negativity, egging each other on in these expressions of contempt, which has become so much a part of the sports/entertainment culture that it seems normal, even hip. The anonymity that is afforded a caller to a talk show or to those who frequent sites such as this one through presenting behind an alias further emboldens many of us to behave in ways we would not dare to if having to do so individually and publicly using our real identities. At least I would hope so. I choose to believe that we sometimes largely forget that a wide variety of people visit this site, include children, grandparents, professionals, perhaps even some of the people we are open about trashing. Talking the way some do would be perfectly okay in a bar full of strangers, but how about a church picnic? Or in an elementary school classroom?
Moving forward there remains the question of how one responds when proven to be mistaken. The guy in the commercial might have seemed a tad embarrassed, as he should have been, but much doubt remains as to whether he would have apologized, or more radically, repented, actually examine himself and endeavor to renounce that sort of behavior. Integrity would suggest that those who have made riding Gay's behind a religion would apologize in as public a manner as they heaped criticism on the man. That's probably not going to happen for the most part. The more likely responses will 1.) a reiteration of the principle that as a fan we are entitled to our opinions ( a variation of the principle that the customer is always rignt); 2) we will be admonished to not believe our lying eyes, that Gay's performance is an anomaly; a trick to fool us into believing he's not as incompetent as we all know he is; 3) keep quiet until he makes a mistake, which cornerbacks will most certainly do, and then continue the campaign.
Well, here's a dose of reality. Those of you who felt that Gay lacked the talent to be a Steeler or even to be part of any team in this league, you have been proven to be totally and completely wrong. You could argue that it was a reasonable belief given past performance (you could argue effectively against that as well), but the fact of the matter is that in light of additional information you are wrong. And given the fact that the team did not listen to your pleas to jettison him and don't appear to be shocked or surprised with his current performance, that might provide further evidence that the collective ignorance on this matter is being tolerated in a relatively good natured manner. In addition, lets be clear that as much as anyone the Steeler's position on top of AFC North is owed to the performance of William Gay. With this in mind there is the problem of who will we scapegoat over the course of the Bye. Of course, there is always Arians