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Steel Wire(d): The Balance of Social Media Prominence and Steelers Fandom

Influencers with millions of followers explore their Pittsburgh passions, maintaining player relationships, football-related projects and more.

Joey Mulinaro (@joeymulinaro) on Twitter, Matthew King (@littledurag) on Instagram and Ryan Peters (@chefryanpeters) on Instagram

Grabbing his bottle of Coca-Cola and donning his crimson and white polo shirt, Joey Mulinaro presses the bright red “record” button at the bottom of his phone screen and lets the magic unfold. As he activates an unmistakable southern twang mixed with several chirps of “aight” and instills the need for consistent focus and a desire to win, Mulinaro instantaneously transforms into revered Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban.

Once the clip is complete and posted across his various social media accounts, Mulinaro is greeted with tens of thousands of likes, millions of views and rousing ovations from celebrities including the likes of NFL Network host Rich Eisen and Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner.

Mulinaro—an entertainer, writer and podcast host for Barstool Sports—has drawn particular acclaim for his uncanny impressions of figures in all realms. While Mulinaro may concentrate in the sports world by recreating the likenesses of Saban, LSU coach Ed Orgeron, Fox Sports commentator Colin Cowherd and NBC broadcaster Cris Collinsworth, he also replicates the speech patterns and movements of pervasive personalities such as priests, waiters, youth coaches and even dads.

Although Mulinaro’s impressions have garnered him nearly 320,000 followers on Twitter, more than 150,000 supporters on Instagram and approximately 137,000 proponents on TikTok, what ultimately defines him is his ardent Pittsburgh Steelers fandom.

“What I can sum it up with best in one word is just passion,” Mulinaro said about how he and his family feel about the Steelers. “We’re very into it, means a lot to us. We love to cheer them on. We get really upset and pissed off when they’re losing or when they’re playing like garbage, or when they drop three balls in a row. We’re screaming at the TV whenever there’s a tipped ball or whenever there’s a fumble on the ground. It’s just straight up passion.”

Mulinaro, who was born and raised in Indianapolis, openly admits that he never tries to conceal or disguise his Pittsburgh passion—it’s an integral part of his identity. In fact, discussing the Steelers across his various social media accounts and through Barstool—either in an article or as host of shows Morning Joey or Going Deep—Mulinaro has been able to establish relationships with players such as T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Zach Banner, Vince Williams and former Steelers quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges.

Whether he’s twirling a Terrible Towel at Paul Brown Stadium—as he did when the Steelers battled with the Cincinnati Bengals in a Week 15 Monday Night Football clash this past season—or criticizing a receiver such as Diontae Johnson for a maddening number of drops, Mulinaro reiterated his desires to uplift and defend the Steelers.

“I’m always gonna be supportive. I’m always gonna have their backs,” Mulinaro said. “It’s kind of like a family: you may give a hard time to your brothers or sisters or whatever, but if somebody else does, then you’re going to be the first one to have their back.”

In fact, after scathing remarks about Ben Roethlisberger’s arm floated across social media streams like unbothered, serene lily pads, Mulinaro took to Twitter to underscore his faith in the two-time Super Bowl champion.

Like Mulinaro, Matthew King—a dancer and entertainer better known by the alias “littledurag”—has retained unwavering devotion for the Steelers as he’s established social media prominence.

King, who described himself as “probably a 37” on a one-to-10 scale of his Steelers fandom, also reins in any pejorative comments in order to avoid shattering relationships with not just Steelers players, but also other NFL stars.

“Even though this isn’t directed towards them, this could still offend them, so I’m just not going to post this,” King explained regarding his mentality when determining what to share online. “I can’t be as vocal as I used to with stuff ‘cause I’m also cool with Stefon Diggs and Xavien Howard and a couple of those guys. I do second guess what I post on TikTok and on Instagram because I’m like, ‘This might upset somebody.’”

King has proudly displayed his Steelers fervor when dancing by wearing Pittsburgh-themed jackets or even a jersey of former Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell, demonstrating his zeal while ascending online ranks.

King’s virality has allowed him to play NBA 2K with running back James Conner, chat about dancing with linebacker Marcus Allen and even potentially collaborate with receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool in the near future. However, King’s 1.4 million followers on TikTok and 134,000 admirers on Instagram don’t always praise his sacred Steelers.

“It might not have even been a full minute when we lost to Washington. I went and just checked my TikTok, and my comments were flooded. You know, ‘Where’s your 12-0 video,’ ’11-1 vibes,’ just constant ‘Steelers are frauds,’ ‘Steelers are this.’ Everyone’s always got something to say; they want to criticize us, say we’re overrated, say we’re bad.”

In spite of any naysayers or doubters, Ryan Peters—a Pittsburgh-based chef who showcases his pasta-making prowess on TikTok to 1.8 million followers—has directly experienced the allure of Pittsburgh football. After moving to The 412, Peters was drawn to the Steelers and “what the franchise stands for,” so much so that he abandoned his native Philadelphia Eagles as if they smelled of rancid cream cheese.

In fact, Peters accredits his black and gold adoration for augmenting his audience and allowing him to work with both the Steelers and the NFL.

“Growing the page as I have, it’s [Peters’ Steelers fandom] definitely helped,” Peters said. “I’ve had the NFL reach out, and [the] Steelers, and all these crazy things that had I not had a following, that probably wouldn’t happen or at least happen as easily as it did. So it definitely has created those opportunities and has made me almost express being a fan of the Steelers even more publicly.”

Peters has been able to grow close with Steelers players such as Smith-Schuster, Conner, Bud Dupree, Devin Bush, Robert Spillane and Ryan Shazier, all of whom follow Peters on Instagram. Moreover, Peters feels that his Pittsburgh allegiance has enabled him to connect with other creators who share similar Steelers sentiments—including King.

“Through TikTok, I’ve really been able to connect with so many of them [Steelers fans], like Matt [King] [and] so many others that are just huge Steelers fans and are so proud of being a fan of the organization. It’s really, really powerful [that] one team almost can bring together people from totally different worlds, and just kind of share that common interest.”

Mulinaro, King and Peters haven’t been alone in their use of social media: in 2020, the Steelers became Internet sensations as players such as Smith-Schuster, Claypool, Allen and even Jaylen Samuels posted to TikTok during their season, amassing millions of views up their climb to an 11-0 start—yet also thousands of demeaning comments across platforms during their 1-4 skid and eventual Wild Card loss. As famous online presences themselves, Mulinaro, King and Peters had different opinions regarding the Steelers’ penchant for dancing and creating content.

“I totally get it that these guys are young; it’s the world we live in. They’re influencers. How I make my living is on the internet,” Mulinaro said. “I totally understand what JuJu is doing. I understand what Claypool is doing, in terms of when they’re in their apartment, in terms of when they’ve won a big game, in terms of that kind of stuff. Where it becomes an issue for me is just I think in any position, and in America or in the world, is when it starts to affect the company, starts to affect the work.”

While Mulinaro expressed contempt for Smith-Schuster’s infamous moves as the team was mired in a losing streak, King issued support for the free agent wide receiver. He also felt that Steelers players gaining attention through virtual platforms could shed positive light on the organization’s holistic brand.

“I love how JuJu said, ‘Win or lose, I’m not gonna change. I’m still gonna do it.’ Because when they were winning, it wasn’t a problem, but now that they’re losing, it’s a distraction, it’s an issue,” King said. “I think that overall, the Steelers coming on TikTok and honestly taking it over and dancing, I think it’s dope. They’re able to really just grow their brand in so many ways, because it’s a brand at the end of the day, too.”

Rather than mimic famous broadcasters or dance energetically, Peters soothingly twirls egg yolks on a flour bed and chops pasta at the perfect length. Yet even he has been able to intertwine the Steelers’ social media buzz with his own platforms.

“Obviously, JuJu is known for his TikTok and all these things he does. He did the ‘corvette’ dance, so I’ve integrated that song into a lot of my TikToks just because I have that connection, and it kind of very loosely ties back into being a Steelers fan.”

As the 2021 offseason has been kickstarted by frenetic trades and rumors galore, the Steelers have already incurred several tough decisions and certainly will encounter more qualms, such as whether to bring back Smith-Schuster. Peters, who has built a relationship with the 24-year-old wideout, gave a ringing endorsement for Smith-Schuster’s return.

“He got a lot of hate and all this kind of stuff for the things he was doing off the field, but looking at it, he had a great year,” Peters said. “He wasn’t having these huge highlight plays, but if you look at what he did, if you watch the games, he was doing great things. I really do hope and I think he should come back.

“At the end of the day, I mean, we all know it’s a business, and teams lose their favorite players all the time, so who knows what’ll happen. But I’m optimistic that he’ll stick around in Pittsburgh and sign a new deal.”

No matter snide comments spewing vitriol towards their videos or their favorite team, Mulinaro, King and Peters will undoubtedly maintain their passion for the Steelers as well as what they post. Whether by partnering with the NFL on upcoming projects—as King and Peters alluded to—or simply serving as an empowered voice representing Steelers Nation, they hope to continue combining their love for entertaining and the black and gold.

“I don’t know if that means I emcee some Steelers fashion event or if someday I hopefully can get the invite to come lead the Terrible Towel Twirl before kickoff,” Mulinaro said in terms of hypothetical opportunities alongside the Steelers organization. “I don’t really know what that looks like, but I know that I’m gonna be around and I’m gonna keep open to try to have a close relationship with them.”