Off-field drama drags down Steelers

Commentary

Some cities might like talented “me-first” players, but Pittsburgh is not one of them.

The region’s fan base still maintains a blue-collar, steel-mill mentality despite an economy that long ago shifted to high-tech innovation, cutting-edge medicine and service jobs.

That is why the me-first actions of LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown have sparked anger. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell jerseys are selling at deep discounts, and some fans have called for Mike Tomlin to be fired.

When Chuck Noll coached the Steelers, drama unfolded, but not nearly as often as now. Noll never had to deal with players who were distracted by Instagram, Twitter, other social media platforms and a 24/7 news environment.

Many reporters called the Steelers’ situation an ongoing soap opera, and tight end Jesse James regretfully said the team had evolved into an NFL version of “the Kardashians,” a long-running, off-beat reality show.

The facts suggest he was right.

A mere three days after the Steelers were eliminated from playoff contention, Brown appeared on Fox’s prime-time entertainment program, “The Masked Singer.”

With his identity concealed, he attempted to sing a song entitled “My Prerogative” while dancing around in a cartoonish blue hippo outfit. Fittingly, the song describes an ego-centric person who feels emboldened to do whatever he wants because, according to the lyrics, “I don’t need permission.”

Brown has done whatever he wants, using social media in ways that were detrimental to team unity, skipping practices and meetings before a must-win game and following that with a self-indulgent network TV performance.

All of this made it hard for teammates to support a future with him on board, so, despite immense talent, Brown could be the first Steeler eliminated from the 2019 roster.

He may have recorded his wacky hippo routine months ago, but Steelers fans had no way of knowing that. Many probably believed he skipped out on the team to work on a meaningless TV show.

The optics of Brown’s actions have long-term implications. They should. The Steelers have let numerous other top receivers go: Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace, Santonio Holmes, to name a few. Nevertheless, Brown may be the best receiver in franchise history, so his talent would be missed, even if his antics were not.

Most NFL analysts thought the Steelers would be playoff bound this season, so the team’s underperformance was surprising. Despite that, Pittsburgh’s situation is not unique.

Anger and frustration have been visible in online comments for numerous NFL teams, many with weaker records than the Steelers.

Jacksonville fans, for example, thought their future was bright going into 2018. After all, they beat the Steelers twice last season, eliminating them from the playoffs.

The Steelers could turn Bell and Brown into easy scapegoats and move on. However, to do only that would be short sighted. Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have assembled a talent-laden roster that underachieves.

They have a turnover-prone offense, an inconsistent defense, and special teams that rank at or near the league’s worst in several key categories.

Teams with less talent are still in the hunt for a Super Bowl crown. Unlike the Steelers, they have earned their opportunity.

As such, decisions made in the months ahead will determine whether the Steelers can regain a championship swagger or whether they will continue what has been an unexpected decline.

Trumpbour is a professor of communications at Penn State Altoona. He authored the book, “The New Cathedrals, politics and media in the history of stadium construction.”

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