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Steelers’ unified front showing to be anything but after Week 1

As on-field performance seems to be coming together for the Steelers, off-field issues are becoming more clouded.

Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Sometimes the Steelers get it right, and sometimes they don’t.

As much as most fans want to keep the focus with the Steelers to on-field performance, there are several issues beyond the game of football which have been front and center with the black and gold.

In 2017 the Steelers dealt with the issue of the national anthem when playing their Week 3 contest in Chicago against the Bears. In an attempt to not be controversial, they ended up being on the opposite end of the spectrum. It was the Steelers’ hope to not repeat this issue and stay united as a team in the things they do moving forward.

During training camp, Coach Tomlin made a statement along with the team about the concept of unity. Additionally, the team chose to have their players stand together for the national anthem in Week 1 while many of them helped in holding up a banner to support their hometown communities. It was not just a message of unity among the players, but of all people.

Unfortunately, the Steelers did not bring about unity in all of their choices.

The problem arose when the Steelers announced their players would all be wearing the name of Antwon Rose Jr. on the backs of their helmets as part of the NFL initiative which allowed this practice for 2020. The announcement brought the criticism of a number of Steelers fans based on the name they chose and the specifics of the case. One major point of concern was the spin on the details of the case presented on the Steelers website which omitted, or misconstrued, some of the events of the incident in which Rose was killed.

When it comes specifically to the case and the name the Steelers chose to put on their helmets, I am not going to go into those details here. As I well know, I could easily write two completely conflicting headlines about the story both of which would not be considered false. Rather than lay out the entire situation, I encourage fans to look into the details of the case themselves, as it appears at least some members of the Steelers are doing as well.

In regards to the helmet situation, controversy began to emerge when Steelers starting left tackle Alejandra Villanueva chose to have another name featured on his helmet. As a former army ranger who was awarded the Bronze Star, Villanueva chose to honor Alwyn Cashe, a black U.S. Army Sergeant and a Silver Star recipient who heroically gave his life to save six members of his unit in Iraq in 2005.

In his press conference on Tuesday, Mike Tomlin said he was aware of Villanueva’s decision, while team captains Cameron Heyward and Ben Roethlisberger both said on Thursday they were not aware of the situation regarding Villanueva.

The issue with the name on Villanueva‘s helmet was not the person he honored, but the fact the Steelers had said they would all wear the same name. A unified front. At first, the decision for the team to stay united seemed wise, but as more people are becoming informed of the details involved with Rose’s case, it appears it may be more divisive than united.

Steelers captain Maurkice Pouncey posted a statement on his Instagram Thursday about the issue and how he will make his own choice regarding what name, if any, will be displayed on his helmet. According to NFL Network‘s Aditi Kinkhabwala, the Steelers full team voting and deciding on which need to be placed on their helmet may not be completely accurate.

If this name was not agreed upon by the players, it is very difficult to force them to take one given side on an issue like this one. Pouncey has a long history of working with police and may have felt he was made to take a stance against something he has supported for quite some time.

While some have criticized Pouncey for not knowing the situation before the name was placed on his helmet, it is unclear at what point Pouncey was even informed this name would be there. As much as fans want players to “stick to football,” expecting a player to go and research all the details of the case involving a name placed on their helmet hours before taking the field is quite hypocritical. And in Pouncey’s defense, at least he is taking the time now to search for more details and answers about exactly what he was supporting.

As much as many fans wish they could separate their desire to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers from these types of issues, it appears these situations are not going away anytime soon.

There are a number of fans who claim they have given up on watching NFL contests, and if the ratings are accurate, it appears they were serious in their choice to not view games. What some are labeling a “ratings crash” for the Monday Night Football doubleheader, the Steelers-Giants game saw a 21% reduction in viewership over the 2019 early game of the New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans according to sportsnaut.com. The second game of the doubleheader between the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos was down 38% from the previous season where the Broncos took on the Oakland Raiders.

Of course, there are many reasons for ratings decline, but the displeasure of some fans on how these issues are being presented is undeniably a major factor.

Specifically for the Steelers moving forward, team president Art Rooney II issued a statement on Thursday morning.

Like many of you who frequent BTSC, the biggest unifying factor we have here is the Steelers. And as much as many would like to “stick to football,” sometimes other issues involving the Steelers arise. It is our job to cover the team the best we can for you the readers, both on and off the field.

Exactly how players will respond to the helmet issue for Week 2 has yet to be determined. But make no mistake, it is going to be a major focal point of the media going forward. In fact, when captains Cam Heyward and Ben Roethlisberger each spoke to the media in interviews on Wednesday which were not viewable to the general public, the majority of the reports immediately coming out were about the name on Villanueva‘s helmet, and not the team’s victory in prime time.

The Steelers have attempted a message of unity throughout the troubling times in our country. Unfortunately, when it came to this particular decision, they chose an issue which has apparently divided both players and the fan base.

Stay tuned to BTSC as the Steelers prepare for their game on the field Sunday at 1 PM against the Denver Broncos.