I have loved the Pittsburgh Steelers for as long as I can remember. Dating back to second grade, I dressed in black and yellow for most of my annual school photos. My loyalty knew no end.
In the 70s, it seemed everyone was either a Cowboys fan or a Steelers fan.
Coach Noll. Mean Joe Greene. Blount. Bradshaw. Ham. Harris. Lambert. Stallworth. Swan.
It was a no brainer for me. Of course, it didn't hurt Pittsburgh was the team of the decade winning four Superbowl's in that era.
Growing up, the Steelers offered me an identity. They gave me something to believe in. The team loaned me confidence, bragging rights, and of course, at times heartache.
They were like a best friend. Maybe that's an overstatement because they didn’t know me from Adam. But, boy did I know them.
As I matured in age, I grew to appreciate the Rooney family, the organization, the system. Everything the Steelers represented in the National Football League.
I was loyal through the 80s and the Bubby Brister era. I stayed loyal through the Bill Cowher and Kordell Stewart era. And I’ve remained loyal through the Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger era.
My loyalty extended to the entire NFL as well. I reserved Sunday afternoon for football games. Monday Night too.
It didn’t matter who was playing. If there was a game, I was going to watch it. For the last 40 plus years, the NFL is what I observed, as Billy Joel once said, “To forget about life for a while.”
It didn’t matter what was going on in my life. It didn’t matter what was going on anywhere. For a few hours, I let it all go to enjoy a football game.
Sadly, that all changed for me in 2016. That’s the year football became less about a game and more about a protest. That was the year when football became the worst possible thing for me. Political.
During the season, Colin Kaepernick and other players chose to “take a knee” during the National Anthem as a protest against the oppression of black people and police violence against people of color.
I am not going to use this space to argue for or against this particular protest's validity. Perhaps that will be a blog for another day.
I will say I strongly support the right of individuals to protest peacefully. I think it’s essential freedom we have in this country. I also believe there are a time and a place for it.
If you have issues with the police, then take a knee outside a police station. If you have problems with the government, take a knee outside the Capital. If you have issues with anything, feel free to take a knee anywhere. Just do it on your own time.
Professional athletes get paid to entertain. They make millions of dollars to play their sport in front of their audience.
“They have a platform, and they should use it,” some will argue.
If you are getting paid to perform, it’s not a platform. It’s a job.
Imagine if I decided to take a knee at my job. Unless I was working on something close to the floor, I’m pretty sure my boss would take issue with it. If I kept it up, I would probably get replaced by the next Blane Gabbert.
Yes, the above was a cheap shot. If you don’t know, Gabbert replaced Kaepernick as the 49ers starting QB in 2015 before all the knee taking. But I digress.
We give way too much credence to football players, athletes, and celebrities in general.
I could care less about what their stance or opinion is on any issue. Politics. Religion. Cartoons. Whatever.
I have decided to protest myself peacefully. Perhaps it's not an actual protest, but I have lost interest. The game is tainted for me. So I choose to no longer watch my beloved Steelers or the rest of the NFL.
My absence has pretty-much gone unnoticed. I mean, Nike hasn’t called to give me a hefty “martyr” contract. Nor have I received an undisclosed settlement from the league. (More cheap shots, I know)
But on Sunday afternoons, I continue to quietly enjoy my day without watching a single game of football.
And I’m not alone. The league has lost nearly 10% of its audience in the last several years.
I suspect the number will continue to rise as more people stop watching.
Former Atlanta Falcons Coach Jerry Glanville once asked a referee, “Do you know what the NFL stands for?”
“Not For Long, if you keep making calls like that,” he quipped.
Perhaps the players, owners, and league should heed that advice as well.
Side Note: Recently, professional basketball players joined the ranks of highly paid protesters as they chose to boycott playoff games. To be honest, I didn’t mention this because I didn’t even know they were playing any games. The NBA hasn’t been relevant to me since the GOAT, Michael Jordan. retired. (Sorry, not sorry, Lebron)