I can say this now since I’ll be 49 in a few weeks (my God): Back in my day, the Steelers season just ended, and then I would go on to do a bunch of other stuff.
Some examples: Daydream in school; play video games; get made fun of by girls for wearing sweatpants to school; ride my bike; eat junk food; get made fun of by girls for wearing sweatpants in the summer.
Sure, I enjoyed a few football-related events in the offseason, including the NFL Draft and the occasional NFL Films show that popped up on some random channel at some random time.
However, I never really paid attention to what NFL players did until training camp. I know there was a mini-camp thrown into the mix between the time I started playing video games and the Steelers reported to Latrobe, but I don’t remember it being that big of a deal.
Did players sometimes not show up to these mandatory mini-camps? Did people care?
Then OTAs happened at some point (I don’t feel like knowing when), and this opened up a whole new can of worms. Occasionally, a player wouldn’t show up to one of these OTAs (Organized Team Activities), and his coaches and teammates would be all passive-aggressive, “I love him, I think he’s a great guy. I wish he was here, but he’s got to do what’s best for him and his family.” Meanwhile, the fans and media would be all, “HE’S A PIECE OF GARBAGE!!!!!!!!!”
This player would eventually go on to write a book and talk about how the overall reaction to his decision to skip OTAs that one time led to years of psychotherapy.
Did I mention these OTAs were voluntary?
Unfortunately, they’re still voluntary (btw, I use “unfortunately” in the sense that OTAs are still around and not that they’re still voluntary), and this has all been a long-winded way of saying many NFL players—including those employed by your Pittsburgh Steelers—have decided to skip the first week of OTAs and are citing safety and risk factors associated with the ongoing pandemic as the reason.
Are they sincere in their reasoning? After all, the NFL just completed an entire season and came out mostly unscathed. If players were able to wade their way through the great unknown that was the COVID life in 2020, why should they feel any less safe over a year into it when every business worth a darn has a proper pandemic protocol in place?
There’s also the matter of vaccines and how big-time professional athletes could easily get them and be done with it.
I mean, is this just an excuse to skip these voluntary OFFSEASON team activities?
I’m guessing it is in a lot of cases, and you know what? I don’t blame the players. I don’t know who keeps attaching the word “voluntary” to these OTAs each time a new CBA is agreed upon, but the owners are just as guilty of keeping the word in there as the players are.
You might say, “Well, if the players didn’t want to participate in these OTAs, they shouldn’t have agreed to them yet again.” Fine, but if the teams kinda, sorta wanted these OTAs to be mandatory, they should have just pretended like they were going after a 17th game, ignored the players’ feelings and insisted upon it.
Had they done so, had they found a way to make these OTAs mandatory, they would have been able to hold the players accountable. Like you, they could have gone on social media and TYPED IN ALL CAPS as they railed against these guys for not holding up their end of the bargain.
But that never happened. OTAs are still voluntary. Coaches and teammates are still forced to act in a passive-aggressive manner when they talk about their missing players/teammates. Fans are still getting upset about something that is totally voluntary and saying things like, “A virtual offseason was why the Steelers faded last year after starting 11-0!” (Here, I thought it was because of having an early bye.)
A contract is a contract, and these players can spend an entire week of OTAs sitting at home and binge-watching Bill Burr’s many appearances on Conan if they want (highly recommended even if you’re not an NFL player).
They could pull a Phoebe Buffay and just say, “Oh, I wish I could, but I don’t want to.”
Below is a statement by Giants players, courtesy of the NYDailynews:
“Our team is a strong, unified brotherhood of professionals who love the game of football and work year-round to perfect our craft. We also have to make the best decisions to protect our health and safety, which is why players on our team are exercising our CBA right to not attend in-person voluntary workouts.”
These players are exercising their CBA right. Again, are they being sincere about the reason? It really doesn’t matter.
A contract is a contract.
I guess the moral of the story is this: If the NFL wanted more than the minimum 15 pieces of flair from its players, it should have just said so.