The NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers are nearly seven weeks removed from the Week 3 national anthem demonstrations, and there are still very strong feelings on both sides of the fence. Some fans, though they've never experienced any form of racism themselves, still empathize with the players and support their right to be heard. Other fans not condemning players for their stance just wish this was done some other way. And some fans are no longer fans. They've quit watching, removed their names from ticket waiting lists, burned their jerseys and are very outspoken on social media.
No matter their stance or yours on the issue, we’ve been afforded an inalienable right to freely voice our opinions and believe what we choose to believe. Just like it’s the players’ rights as citizens to demonstrate. Personally, I’d prefer to have seen it done in a manner that didn't offend the great men and women who fought for the very blanket of freedom that we rise with every day in this country. But I also understand that some of our citizens don't feel they enjoy quite the same coverage by that blanket as others do. And if the display isn't of major proportions, how much impact can it possibly have? The point is that I know what I've experienced, and I haven't been discriminated against in any way. But I also believe that other people feel that way for a reason because they’ve experienced hatred first hand.
After the Steelers’ win over Baltimore on October 1st, in which the team stood for the anthem, Vince Williams of the Steelers addressed those Pittsburgh fans desecrating their own Steelers merchandise in a tweet...
Williams was responding to the multitude of anti-Steeler messages, fans and a VFW in Ford City holding Steelers bonfires and boycotts of stores selling Steelers merchandise. His response also set off an extremeley racist message tweeted to him four days later which he retweeted. Fans supported Williams with messages of support.
Whether you agree with Williams’ "closing of the bandwagon" or not, a hate-filled message on social media to a player speaking out against hate in his own way is far over the boundary of good taste and puts the spotlight on the original problem we have in our society—racial intolerance. It’s disgusting behavior, period!
I support anybody who feels passionate enough to jump off of the Steelers’ bandwagon. I actually said this on a podcast before Williams did and I agree with him. I did say it more tactfully, though. But if you want to stand by your principles and feel that you cannot support the team any longer, then you shouldn’t. It’s just how you feel and I can't argue with you. Just like I can't argue with anybody who feels inclined to protest in a manner unpopular with the masses. Bottom line—if you go away—stay on the other side of the fence. I respect that if you stick to your principles. Some people were so disgusted with the loss to Chicago that they used the pregame actions as an excuse. Some said they can't watch anymore this season. What changes after this season? You can't leave the door open to come back if they make a Super Bowl run. If you do, that's not showing you’re truly able to stand by your beliefs.
Since the anthem display and the Steelers’ upswing in fortune, some fans have returned like nothing ever happened. Some are still off completely. I know a Vietnam-era veteran who’s taking this weekend off, stating a national NFL boycott that I was not aware of. Less players are kneeling, but some still are. NFL sponsors are grumbling. Colin Kaepernick is still unemployed. The NFL is going through with "Salute to Service" Month, but that feels hypocritical too. Nothing is really fixed. We are still divided on this issue.
I'm fortunate to have a lot of friends. I'm friends with people who are police officers. I'm friends with people who are black. I'm friends with people who are gay. I'm friends with people who are Asian, Latino, Jewish and of Middle Eastern descent. I'm friends with people who are politicians. I'm friends with people who serve our country and I'm friends with a family who has lost a loved one valiantly serving our country. Heck, I'm even friends with Patriots and Ravens fans. In many cases, those people can check more than one box above. I'm friends with these people because they’re good people. That's all I care about. Race, sexual orientation, personal views...I don't care. Just don't be an a**hole and you're okay with me.
We have a huge problem in this country. We sadly keep murdering our fellow Americans and we’re forgetting how to love our neighbor. I can't pretend to know how to solve these societal problems. We say we care, but until its in our own backyard...do we really? If an issue matters to someone not in our shoes, it's still an important issue. It's a difficult solution to uncover, but I do know that we need to find a way to do this united as a country—not divided.
If you’re the bandwagon, that's okay. It's also okay to stick to your principles and stay off. It’s your right. But don't waver and then come back just because the Steelers are a legitimate contender. On or off...there's no fair-weather middle. Vince Williams said so and I agree.