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Now Steelers fans owe Le’Veon Bell an apology

Bell didn’t deserve the 2018 hate.

Divisional Round - Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The wounds from the Steelers’ failed Killer Bees era are beginning to heal, now that Le’Veon Bell has apologized to fans for leaving the team. Frankly, things probably turned out for the best for Pittsburgh in the long run. It’s hard to look back at the 2018-2022 era and believe they would be title contenders with 26 in the backfield. And while many fans are happy to hear Bell say he’s sorry, for the circle to be complete, they need to ask him for forgiveness themselves.

First off, Bell never did anything that required an apology to fans. He made a business decision surrounding an issue that’s still at the heart of the NFL today. Bell’s drama in 2018 maybe only served as a prelude to the labor issues du jour. With more and more hindsight, Bell’s talent seems all that more special. Statistically, he’s the franchise’s third greatest rusher, and he’s top ten all-time in franchise receptions. One can still see today why he’d want a contract that reflects those numbers.

As for the apology itself, Bell is pandering to fans, who were all too quick to eat it up. As Steelers fans, we love to be told that we’re the best in the world. We’re certainly the most prolific and widespread, thanks to rust belt economics, and generation after generation of winning football. But we’re far from the most positive fans in the world. A 2021 study said Steelers fans online were among the least positive. A 2022 study from also gave us high scores in negativity.

If you’re a cynic, you may believe Bell is doing this now to drum up publicity for the new single he’s about to drop with Snoop. In his apology video, he asks fans to keep supporting him in his other ventures. But even if you think Bell is sincere, he’s understanding the value of defining his legacy as a Steeler, which can have a lifetime of incentives.

Whatever Bell’s motives, it’s time for fans to offer some reciprocity. Many are granting Bell forgiveness when they really need to ask for it as well. Back in 2018, the chorus was loud and biting. Bell was “greedy,” a “loser,” and a “dope smoker” who should “quit crying.” Every season there’s a player or coach who takes the brunt of the critics, but Bell didn’t deserve the hate he received. And his legacy will be hard to overshadow. Najee Harris is currently well below the pace Bell set in his 62 games with Pittsburgh, both in rushing and receiving.

I’m not trying to build Bell a statue. The way he left may makes it a lot harder to consider him for something like the Hall of Honor. Public criticism is part of the job description, but we’ve learned since then, how players hear and absorb that kind of talk. Some use it to motivate, but others dwell on it in different ways. I think of Terry Bradshaw still talking about, with resentment, the ‘dumb’ stereotype that surrounded his career, or Kevin Dotson standing bewildered in front of reporters last year, after receiving death threats. Maybe it’s time we add Bell to the list of people who are deserving of a fan apology.

Kyle Chrise is the host of the podcast “What Yinz Talkin’ Bout.”