Looking Deeper into The Heart of Steeler Nation: A Guest Article

via Post-Gazette

Note from Rebecca—what follows showed up on Thursday as a comment to Ivan’s article, “The Heart of Hypocrisy? The Can of Worms Opened by the Michael Vick Signing,” which you can read by clicking here, if you haven’t already. I thought the author of the comment made some points which are very much worth making, and wanted to make sure more people saw it. 

I’ve always wondered why we not only have to hate other teams but their players, and have noted that the players themselves don’t hate each other, except for the sorts of normal dislikes one might take to another person in any walk of life. After all, many of them work out together in the off-season, work together as player union reps, and so on. Furthermore, they know they could end up as teammates. And the picture? William Gay, a man many in Steeler Nation derided because he refused to hate Ray Rice, a man accused of same crime which had killed Gay’s own mother. 

But my purpose here is not to write another article. Please read on:

[Ivan’s article is a] wonderful rant and while I agree with you on many levels, here’s my problem with forgiveness as it’s being shoved down my throat by Steeler Nation. (Wow, that sounds nothing like me.)

I really have no problem with [Michael] Vick. For reasons I might describe in a much longer comment, I was over that years ago. But here’s my problem with Steeler Nation. Or at least the visible parts of it on social media. Suddenly we’re all supposed to be about forgiveness, second chances, and redemption. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

The Two Faces of Steeler Nation

But really? Where has all this forgiveness and belief in second chances been hiding? No one was more vile and condemning of Ray Rice than members of said Steeler Nation. He was an animal, a pig, a monster, excrement. He should be drummed out of the NFL, in prison, on and on. If you tried to show a little kindness or generosity, you were a deluded Raven fan, a tool of the NFL who should have immediately crucified him or maybe someone who thought it was great to beat the snot out of women.

If anyone should have been in favor of second chances and a little empathy, it should have been those fans who will tell you that Big Ben is a changed man, that James Harrison went through anger management classes and loves his kids…but that isn’t what happened.

I came across the Ray Rice stuff pretty late. I was busy, not paying attention to anything related to football. Then a friend read aloud to me a Steeler fan blog condemnation of Ray Rice–his brutality, the practiced swing indicative of a habitual abuser, his sad excuse for a human being girlfriend/wife who exhibited the usual abuse victim inability to stand up for herself. Or maybe the gold digger mentality that had her marry a man who beat her; and there was his callousness, the way he dragged her out of the elevator as if he’d done it a million times. I forced myself to watch the video of them in the elevator and then watch the press conference they first held.

I was shocked. Not by what happened but by the vindictiveness in the interpretation of Steeler fans who should have or could have felt a little more empathy or generosity because of what they have forgiven in their own players.

I saw a man hit a woman. I didn’t see anything as brutal as the witness description of another football player (whose name I can’t remember) grabbing, holding down and choking a screaming woman. No, the Rice thing wasn’t pretty or pleasant or acceptable behavior. But it was a single blow. It looked pretty fluid but she wasn’t terrified beforehand so it wasn’t as if he was moving in to take a second shot at someone he’d already frightened.

It knocked her out. I once knocked out a friend who was reading over my shoulder and I just meant to give him a good hard shove away from me because it annoyed me. I’m not that strong and he’s not that weak and while I didn’t intend him flowers and chocolates, I really didn’t expect to see blood spurt out of his nose as he lay flat on his back, and it scared me silly.

I can’t even remember what I did in the aftermath but I doubt I looked like a remorseful person, whatever that means. I just wanted to get him back on his feet and conscious again so maybe if we’d been in an elevator I would have just pulled him out by his arms or legs, looking poker faced. I didn’t see Ray Rice cackling in evil glee or grabbing her by her hair. I think at one point, he picks up her purse or puts her legs back together. I only watched it once and I despised myself for being privy to what may have been the worst moments of two people’s lives, now turned into a public spectacle so everyone could despise the both of them. Him as abuser, her as typical brainwashed victim.

But Aren’t Other Fans Just the Same?

I read other pro football team’s fan blogs because of other people in my household. Really, nobody hated Ray Rice as much as Steeler fans. Only once did I read a whole article/post that even mentioned forgiveness or empathy or understanding and that was Chris Carter’s article on Behind the Steel Curtain that focused on the reactions of Willie Gay and Troy Polamalu.

Willie said only the victims mattered and he wasn’t interested in punishing Rice. Troy said we’ve all sinned and should forgive. Only a few people commented, although those few comments were moving and honest and worth everything else ugly. Then someone hijacked comments with a “WOW, you made Yahoo News!” and something that mattered became something that didn’t. Then it all went back to hating Ray Rice the monster.

If the NFL and the Ravens organization are guilty of anything, it’s not using the opportunity to have a real national discussion about men hitting women. It’s not done by monsters. It’s done by men who use physical force or threat to deal with anger or frustration.

Some may be monsters. Some might be decent men who did terrible things or bad things or stupid single time things they would be ashamed of immediately afterwards with no pressure to confess or apologize. Some women who get hit or shoved or threatened can no longer stand up for themselves and believe they deserve it. Some are nothing like that “typical victim,” but women trying to keep their families together—who genuinely love men who need to learn how to manage their anger. None of us know where Ray Rice and his wife fit into that spectrum–but very few of us were willing to allow him or them a chance.

Now I’m supposed to believe that all these Steeler fans who at the very least didn’t object to descriptions of Ray Rice as a pig/monster/whipping boy were really people who are personally committed to forgiveness and redemption?

Not A Recent Phenomenon

Steeler fans don’t forgive Neil O’ Donnell for something that happened years ago and (most likely) wasn’t intentional. They don’t forgive LaMarr Woodley for injuries that most likely caused his weight gain and loss of mobility, but instead insist he was lazy and fat and got his money, so now he just lays around on the couch eating cream pies. They don’t forgive Rashard Mendenhall for fumbling in the Super Bowl (“Fumble Machine,” although statistics prove otherwise), for making a few twitter comments they didn’t like (terrorist sympathizer, race card player, weirdo) or for being so alienated from the team he didn’t show up for a game (quitter/pansy/coward).

They don’t even forgive Manny Sanders or Mike Wallace for being a couple of mouthy kids who moved onto to different teams. Second chances? Blount apologized for his behavior–did anyone say he deserved a second chance?

It’s not even just ex-Steelers who are treated with contempt and viciousness. There were several articles and hundreds of comments on a Steelers blog attacking Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch as a classless thugs, following situations which had nothing to do with the Steelers, and from people who knew very little about either player.

I’ve read long long attacks on the city of Cleveland, the fan base of Cleveland and the Browns, things that went on–literally–for three days and hundreds of comments and there were very few comments that said “Come on, this is ridiculous, not the whole city, not every fan, not the whole team.” I’ve seen those kinds of objections on a regular basis on other fan blogs when people made absurd generalizations. Who cares that much in trashing Cleveland?

But it’s not just that city. Read a Steelers fan blog. They hate every other team and all the fans. And again, while it may be a few that start these attacks, lots of people chime in and there are very few voices calling for reason.

I’ve spent most of my adult life living outside Pittsburgh so I’ve watched games for years in bars in the cities of the teams they were playing against. I’ve never been treated badly, I’ve never formed a bad impression of other city’s fans, and often I meet people I like even though we cheer for teams who are competing that day.

And it’s not just teams, fans and cities. Steelers fans hate every single announcer and color commentator. They’re all idiots—they know nothing. They hate the Steelers. Tunch and Bill Hillgrove? Idiots and homers.

In fact, Steelers fans hate each other. Homers or Debbie Downers. Bandwagon fans, even though the Steelers have millions of fans world wide because they were successful in the past, so, um, a lot of those fans got on the bandwagon at some point. Or my favorite. Want to know how to sneer at other Steeler fans? They DIDN”T BUY THE RIGHT JERSEY THIS YEAR!!! You need to know the rules!

So I find it difficult to believe all these professed deep personal beliefs that everyone deserves another chance, that all it takes is paying your dues and you should be accepted back into the fold, that we should forgive and forget.

I think people with very few real values who like to believe in their own superiority because they are fans of a professional sports team are trying to deny real issues of morality and discomfort to make it easier for themselves to sit, half drunk, on Sunday afternoon and yell at their televisions.

Further note from Rebecca: I haven’t been able to identify the author of this, but if s/he will let me know I will happily credit it.

27 comments

  • Great comment. Thanks for making it a stand alone post Rebecca.

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  • Love the post and support the point. He did a better and more compassionate analysis of the inconsistencies of fan behavior than I did. The path to human success and failure is more complex than many of us would like to believe. In my experience individuals need and receive a lot of help in order to succeed and need and receive a lot of help in order to fail as well (in addition to their own contributions and efforts). Apologies can be forced but are usually useless as a result. Forgiveness, like love is utterly pointless unless generated internally and freely given. When Troy Polamalu commented on Ray Rice he very specifically said that he was just like Rice. I think, conscious or not, this was the point of the post. Are any of us that much different than those that we are so quick to condemn?

    Liked by 1 person

  • Growing up in Michigan and Ohio and spending several years in Chicago Steelers fans aren’t special in their ability to hate.

    More and more we seem to be getting away from reasoned discussion. But that is illusion as well. Look at how Shoeless Joe Jackson was treated, look at sports scapegoats like Bill Buckner, the Cowboy that dropped the pass in the SB vs. the Steelers, look at how disparate the views on guys like Sosa, Canseco and Bonds are. Heck look at the surviving graffiti of Rome, internet quality stuff. We have always been like this.

    Our capacity to hate for the slightest reasons and hold grudges for perceived slights has always been with us, the impact varies by the percentage of people who care and their ability to publicize their feelings.

    That makes modern day Pittsburgh a pretty bad town to be a target. So many people care about the Steelers that our fandom turning ugly is a big deal.
    Just look at the girl caught up in that mess in Georgia. She disappeared. I don’t blame her, the hate she was facing was scary.
    Look at Gamergate for a non-football example. Women being followed home, stalked and threatened for calling out a part of the gaming industry most gamers don’t even like.

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  • An excellent response to a good article by Ivan. Personally, I am frustrated, saddened and angry by the signing of Vick. I have been a Steelers fan for most of my life. I have witnessed 4 Super Bowl wins in a 6 year span, albeit as a child. I have proudly worn my gear year round and have been amused by the reaction of visitors to our city who just couldn’t grasp the notion of this during the off season. I have always felt that Steeler Nation was a wonderful group of vastly different people from all walks of life, of all ages, from every point on the globe with one absolute common goal, the success of our team. Lately, though, I’ve discovered that I’m a) not a true fan, b) a bandwagon fan, c) a racist, d) a hypocrite, e) stupid, f) one who doesn’t realize that they’re JUST dogs, g) unforgiving (because nothing SCREAMS, “I’m sorry”, more than stopping what you chose to do more than being arrested and being forced to apologize), h) etc., etc., etc. Every Steelers group that I belong to seems to be divided viciously into #teamvick and #teamdogs. I am incredibly saddened by the way the Steelers forced this break upon our once great ‘Nation’. I feel the same turmoil that I felt when the Pirates decided to have Barry Bonds present Andrew McCutchen’s MVP Award. I didn’t boo (like many), but I didn’t cheer unabashedly, either. In fact, most around me at that game seemed to offer the polite, reserved clapping that you would expect during tennis or golf. Andrew deserved so much better and so does Steeler nation. I will still attend Steeler games, hoping though, that Vick never gets the chance to touch the ball. If he does, I won’t boo, but rather imagine that I will be among many offering a polite round of applause or silence. I can’t ever remember not being excited about the start of the Steelers season, and yet here I am. Go Pirates! Go Pens!

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  • What a great comment. I made many comments last week on another site. While I wasn’t filled with hate for Vick, I was unabashedly disgusted with the FO and adamant in my distaste for his signing.

    The articles on Going Deep has given me pause. “That other site” has generated way too much heat; too little light. Most writers and commenters showed little tolerance for any view contrary to their own. The old site became a place where you couldn’t be heard unless you shouted. The quality of the articles declined. Along with it, the quality of the discourse degraded, exploding into an online bar fight.

    Thursday night, I found Going Deep, ironically, based on a mention on the old site. Articles by Ivan, Rebecca and the article above have made me think. Think hard.

    I’m not going to turn into a Michael Vick fan any time soon. I have however, taken a step back. I’ve thought about character. I’ve considered Vick’s journey and the possibility that he has learned something from his horrid crimes. Perhaps men I respect, Coach T and the Rooneys, are in a better position to judge the current state of Vick’s character. Maybe I can at least quiet down to a grumble and at least sit back and just root for my team.

    I totally agree with the writers view on those who are so quick to spew hate, even those whose actions offend our moral code. While we can abhor the actions of Ray Rice, Richie Incognito, and others, those calling them garbage or subhuman offend my values. It’s not an exercise I want to be a part of.

    I’m glad to be in a new place with old friends exchanging ideas instead of insults and while I won’t be leading the cheers for Mike Vick, I’ll be watching and waiting and perhaps even hoping that someday I might. Instead of going postal, I’m going deep.

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    • Excellent comment on an excellent article from an excellent site. Very impressed by everyone involved. I heard you, brother.

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  • Maybe we should just enjoy the games. It is unfortunate, for a bunch of reasons that some Steeler fans don’t have the luxury of waking up in a nice comfotable bed at home excited and getting ready for “Steeler day”. It is quite a gift I must say to be able to enjoy this simple thing. Please don’t let the horrible mistakes of someone take that gift away from you. Give yourself this gift then open it and also permit others to open their gifts no matter how many past mistakes they have made. An unopened gift is worthless. So much sadness in the world, one tragedy after another and so much suffering. Maybe we should just enjoy the games.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed. I have a thousand reasons to enjoy rooting for the Steelers and I will never be deterred. I will choose to focus on the many great stories on the Steelers — William Gay, Sammie Coates, Kelvin Beachum, Antonio Brown, Sean Spence, James Harrison, to name only a few. There have been many through the years. I resolve to count my many blessings and let go of the few disappointments. Happy Steeler season to Mike, and the growing group here. Good to see some familiar faces.

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  • Great post. I hope the author steps forward.

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  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    I have already come to expect thoughtful and well written articles when I come to this site but it was an added pleasure to find a comment which matched the quality of the articles. I hope the writer contacts you or at least adds a pen name in future.

    Liked by 2 people

  • The guy describing Ray Rice punch has no experience as a bouncer in a bar and has never seen a woman hit with a punch by a tough man. I have seen many on the other hand and Rice’s punch was the worse kind. The problem with the public is everything picks sides and no one presents balance. As soon as I hit his theory on the Rice punch I could not read on, lost all credibility.

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    • I think, rather than present his theory as fact, the author was trying to say there is more than one possible way to view most things we see.

      One of my son-in-laws is a policeman in a bad neighborhood near a large city, and while he worked the night shift an awful lot of his calls were for domestic violence. He got to know some of the couples quite well because he saw them so often.

      He was called out so often to one couple in particular that he would just come in, sit down, and let them decide which one was to blame and should go to jail that time. As he left the other one would be on the phone arranging bail. It got to the point that once when he was waiting for that evening’s decision the husband said, “Oh by the way we’re having a barbecue on Saturday, would you like to come?” My son-in-law had to tell him that probably wasn’t a good idea, but thanks.

      I realize we’re talking about a different level of violence here, although there was violence involved. Obviously my son-in-law wouldn’t have dealt with the situation the way he did if he considered one party to be in serious danger, but my point is, these situations are often more nuanced than they first appear.

      Is it okay to respond to annoyance or frustration or whatever with violence? Not at all. But often it’s the only thing people know. Much better to help them deal with the anger and violent impulses than to just write them off as irredeemable.This is the point William Gay was trying to make. If the woman (assuming it is the woman) is not safe, get her out until (or if) she is deemed safe. But swelling the ranks of the prisons isn’t helping anyone, except when the person is totally out of control. And hating the perpetrator doesn’t help anyone either.

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  • Not every Steelers fan was unforgiving of Ray Rice, there was a vocal minority who stood up for decency in the face of such an ugly display of hatred. That hatred disgusted me then even more than what has been displayed toward Michael Vick. And it wasn’t just Steelers fans, Ravens fans were even harder on Ray than we.

    While appreciating the article, I feel you are too hard on the people, we are after all human and yes, I get the irony of asking you to forgive us.

    Now Neal O’Donnell, well, that last interception was unforgiveable surely we can agree on that : )

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    • Well, painting with a broad brush is pretty much what rants are about. But you’re correct, of course—there were plenty of us who didn’t appreciate the characterization of Rice. The trouble is, we tended to be shouted down. Which goes back to the whole thing of the idea of discourse being lost, or at least pretty frayed around the edges.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Testing the new avatar. The dog is named Bogart as in Humprey.

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    • So is he a hard-boiled cynic who eventually shows his noble side? (Wikipedia’s description of Bogart’s usual film persona. Although in this case it would be a dog-sona, I suppose.)

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      • The “other Rebecca” is a big fan of Humphrey Bogart. Of course, with my wacky sense of humor I call our dog “Hump” rey Bogart much to her chagrin. Having another night of insomnia as you can tell, not sure what is the problem.

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  • I am the author of this article and I apologize to Ivan and Rebecca. It wasn’t intentional that I didn’t step forward. I had some problem making an account and I can’t even remember why. And then I had a work crisis and assumed my post hadn’t made it to publication. I was blowing off steam, talking to myself (after talking to Ivan in my head for days on the subject of hypocrisy) and didn’t mean to come across as either a bully or a coward. I realize this is belated and everyone has moved on but, again, I want to apologize. I feel as if Ivan and Rebecca held an open house, I ran in, stood on a table and ranted, then ran out the back door.

    If I have any excuse, it’s that I’m still haunted by Janay Rice. I am disgusted with myself that I was one among millions who watched that elevator tape. Even just once and wincing the whole time. I watched her get punched by someone she loved. And then she was stripped of her dignity and her pride and finally her right to define herself. Who am I, who are any of us, to claim we don’t believe her or her view of her family? Will Gay was one of the very few public figures who described them as “a family” and his generosity still moves me to do my best to believe him, to believe her. If anyone should have shown support, it should have been Steelers fans. Who point to Ben and Deebo as examples. As far as I have read, Ray Rice was more of model citizen at all other times than either of those two. (And I love Deebo, like Ben, am not claiming it was wrong to point to them as men who got a second chance and made good on it.)

    I shouldn’t have made any comments about what went on in that elevator. I make no claim to know if that was the first time he hit her or the 50th, so yes I’m guillty of sounding as if I were trying to minimize it. I meant only that we can’t know someone’s whole history by a few minutes of tape.

    But maybe this was my real point. I read an article-or five–that suggested that if you could walk away from the Steelers because they hired Mick Vick, you weren’t a “real fan.” I think we should all be able to walk away from our allegiance to a team for whatever ethical or moral reasons we hold more dear. I keep thinking of that assistant coach at Penn State who saw or heard a young boy being raped in the shower and didn’t do what I hope most of would do–interrupt it, run in and save him, call the police. Instead, he went home and talked to his father and reported it the next day. That’s allegiance to a team over morality and decency. And while that’s an extreme example, I don’t think it’s much different from the convenience of forgiving people who might win your team a game and heaping hatred on someone who won’t.

    Enough. As for Steeler Fever’s point, yes, I do see the irony in not really forgiving people who couldn’t forgive. But I don’t think I have any power to forgive or not forgive others. Partly I don’t forgive myself for not being a voice who fought the majority. I believe a lot less in something called the Steeler Way because of how I saw it applied. Yes, there were a few voices calling for decency and forgiveness and I’m sure Fever was among them. But I am less of a Steeler fan, less of a football fan, find it less comfortable to believe myself in the company of people I trust and want to be a part of, because of that outpouring of bile. We had a chance to make something bad–the physical violence of men against those weaker and smaller than themselves–become a “problem” (like drug addiction, alcoholism and mental illness) and instead we, most of us, turned it into an attack on a single man. It didn’t help anyone. It certainly didn’t make any of us better than we are.

    Earthling

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amazing read. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself. It is a rare and beautiful thing, especially on a football themed website. I hope to see your writing here often. Rebecca and Ivan have created a special place.

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    • I’m glad you discovered your post, Earthling. If you ever want to be more definitely identified let me know. And if you want to write anything else I’d be happy to post it : )

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  • Note:

    This sue operates a little bit weirdly. I do not have a split personality, but my comments show up as MadAnthonyWayne and Roxanna Firehall. I will try to fix that.

    Like

  • Note:

    This site operates a little bit weirdly. I do not have a split personality, but my comments show up as MadAnthonyWayne and Roxanna Firehall. I will try to fix that.

    Like

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