Rookie Indoctrination—The Steelers’ Culture of Service
I’ll admit it—I’m a little under the weather. Or perhaps it is the weather that is a little over me. I’m in a very nice part of the world at the moment, but it isn’t very nice in this part of the world. I feel as if I’ve scarcely seen the sun for weeks, and when one has just survived another Pittsburgh winter one tends to feel entitled to some good weather.
And I’ll be honest—I’ve hit a bit of an off-season wall. There is plenty of stuff to write about, but my enthusiasm for figuring out what it might be and actually doing so is at a rather low ebb. Hence I found myself listlessly perusing the video section on Steelers.com, looking for some sort of inspiration. And boy did I find it.
I have written at some length before about the Steelers’ commitment to community service, both in writing about some of the individuals who are notable for service (Arthur Moats, the departed David Nelson, DeAngelo Williams, William Gay, etc.) and from the standpoint of whence this culture springs—the Rooney family.
The NFL is all about community involvement, of course. It’s a good way to grow the brand and to look good doing it. They came up with the “Play 60” program as a way to interact with future fans. Their infamous Rookie Symphosium supposedly covered community involvement as part of their instruction in off-field issues, but the truth came out—it was mainly about telling the players how to avoid trouble of the sort that makes the NFL look bad.
In fact, this year the NFL, in light of the negative publicity they were getting, has shifted the responsibility to the individual teams. As reported by ProFootballTalk:
Every team will have mandatory rookie orientation from June 20-22. Topics teams will address with players include social responsibility, respect at work, mental health, character and values and player engagement resources.
The Steelers didn’t wait for June 20th, because community service isn’t, well, lip service for them. They have already taken the rookies, as a class, to Children’s Hospital, a place where the Steelers have been notably active, and to the Mel Blount Youth Home. You can watch videos of both events on Steelers.com by clicking on the Community link in the video menu bar. You might have a little trouble finding, them, though, because there are so many videos from recent events, from Heath Miller’s miniature golf tournament to benefit the Salvation Army’s “Bundle Up” program to Ben Roethlisberger’s football camp. Don’t forget Antonio Brown’s charity softball game, or Arthur Moats taking his family to make cookies at the Ronald McDonald House.
Then there is Mike Tomlin, being roasted by John Harbaugh in Baltimore when he attended a charity event there to raise awareness and raise money for bone marrow donations. Alejandro Villanueva and Sammie Coates were at the MDA Muscle event, which raises money for kids with muscle disorders. Of course there’s Shear Da Beard—who could forget that? Joey Porter was at the Pittsburgh International Auto Show to raise money for autism research. Cam Heyward talked about his Heyward House Foundation which supports Kid’s Voice and the local Girls and Boys Clubs in Pittsburgh. Heck, even James Harrison took his boys to the local firehouse with treats for the Random Acts of Kindness day. And that’s not even all the videos since the season ended for the Steelers. Furthermore, there are other events that aren’t in the video section—check out the Community Events photo tag as well.
It’s probably a good thing to tell players they should be out in the community making a difference. It’s way better to take the rookies and help them see why this is an important part of their responsibilities. But it is even more effective when the most respected players in your room are modeling this behavior for you.
Most of these events don’t just involve a single person. There were at least a half a dozen other players at Cam Heyward’s event. Brett Keisel’s event brings out players, coaches and the owners. Antonio Brown seems to have rustled up half the team for his softball game. Many of the players, including a few of the veteran free agents who signed this spring, have their own foundations. How could you possibly hang back as a rookie when you see everyone in the organization taking community service seriously?
So if you are feeling as if the football season will never get here, and you’re tired of reading articles comprised of a tiny sprinkling of facts stirred up with a steaming heap of speculation, go have a look at what the guys are actually doing with some of their precious spare time. It might just perk you up as much as it did me…