This past weekend, a video written and narrated by former U.S. Army Ranger and current Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva was released in honor of Memorial Day.
Also this past weekend, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell had a major release, too: a rap song called “Target” that points to what he feels are slights by the fans, the media and his teammates over his current contract demands.
Think about that juxtaposition for a moment: in a weekend in which the memories of millions who have died in service of the United States of America will be fondly and painfully remembered, one Steeler spoke of the tragic history of military service in this country. Meanwhile, another Steeler played the victim card over the tragedy that his team doesn’t want to pay him $17 million per year to play a game.
Of course, the song is available at the low, low price of just 99 cents, payable to Bell, himself. Maybe he’s trying to make up the contract “shortfall” with music sales.
Bell hits on all his usual talking points — calling himself the best (“Wonder why they treat me like the bad guy / You say I ain’t the best, but that’s a bad lie”), about how he technically — technically — never actually failed a drug test (“You think that they won’t pay me ‘cause a drug test / Fun fact, I ain’t never failed one”), and so on. We’ve heard it all before, Juice.
Villanueva spent nearly five minutes talking, instead, about the meaning of the holiday that formed from a grass-roots campaign in post-bellum America to decorate the graves of those who died in the Civil War, until it was declared a national holiday in 1971. The second half of his video told the all-too-brief story of 20-year-old Specialist Jesse Wayne Dietrich, who fought alongside Villanueva but died of wounds sustained when their unit was ambushed on August 25, 2011 in Senjaray, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.
One spoke of men and women who died to bring and sustain freedom for hundreds of millions. One made sure the world got an earful about why he’s supposed to be worth at least twice as much money as any other running back in football today. What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.
I’ve not faulted Bell for his demands. Despite disagreeing with him, I recognize this is a business, that running backs tend to have the shortest careers, and that he can and even should fight for every penny he feels he is worth. There’s nothing wrong with that. He’s doing what he thinks is best for his own interests. You and I would probably do a lot of the same things, if we’re being honest with ourselves.
Still, the one thing that has come across loud and clear in all Bell’s attempts to paint himself as the good guy is that he’s tone deaf. His actions this Memorial Day weekend reveal a self-centered, me-first attitude that shows he doesn’t care about the concept of a team, and never will. It’s not about the money. It’s about the fact that he would choose to take a weekend on which we celebrate the selfless sacrifice of lives, and make it entirely about himself.
That’s not the person I want as the face of a franchise for the next half a decade. I’d pay Villanueva twice as much as any other left tackle before I paid Bell another dime.
Only I’m pretty sure Villanueva wouldn’t ever ask for it, on Memorial Day weekend, or any other time.