The Pittsburgh Slave Stealers—Not Your Typical Bye Week Announcement
Mike Tomlin called a media session to start the down time portion of the bye week. But it wasn’t about some guy they picked up off waivers or an injury wrap-up. It was to officially announce a partnership between the Steelers and a group called OUR—Operation Underground Railroad.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sportswriter Joe Starkey wrote a beautiful and sobering column about this partnership, and my first recommendation is for you to follow the link and read the article. As Ivan Cole, who sent me the link (I’m sort of out of the loop at the moment) said, “Speaks for itself.” My purpose here is to give you a bit more of the text from the media session.
I couldn’t be more thrilled to see this, other than the need for such an organization in the first place is so horrifying. This is an issue which has long interested both Ivan and me, and for the Steelers to be the ones to step forward is very heartening.
Mike Tomlin started his remarks by noting that in recent weeks the Steelers had “a few significant discussions about our platform as professional players and how we utilize [it]” He said at the time that “we are interested in making an impact and not statements.” This refers to his remarks in the press conference after the Chicago game.
One got the impression during that conference that Tomlin was not a fan of any sort of demonstrations during the anthem, but that he couldn’t make the decision for the players. He prefers to make a difference through work in the community—or at least that is how I interpret his interest in “making an impact and not statements.”
Tomlin had actually met with the OUR people back in the spring. As you will note later, Tomlin initiated the contact, and several members of the organization spent some time at training camp talking to the players and getting to know the organization. Tomlin explained that they were very impressed with the work OUR does, worldwide, in rescuing children in the sex trafficking and child slave “industry.” As he said:
“A number of weeks ago we were talking about things that can be divisive. As a football group we are uniquely aligned. And when we get an opportunity to utilize our platform and get behind something like this, it’s easy. Every man in our group, to a man, is behind this.”
He then introduced Tim Ballard, the head of OUR.
Ballard stated that child sex slavery is one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the world. There are millions of children worldwide who are being sold. He noted the following:
“We call ourselves the Slave Stealers, which is a historical reference, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have started calling themselves the Pittsburgh Slave Stealers.” Even the organization colors, which they chose four years ago, are black and gold. I think what he had to say is best shown by his response to various questions, as follows:
Q. How are the Steelers able to help you in this endevor?
A. “Any horrific plague that ever hit the earth, it never went away when people said ‘Well, someone else will take care of it.’ It’s a grassroots movement, people have to get involved, people have to stand up and see, and be made aware of the problem.
So a group like the Steelers, one of the great fanbases that exist in the NFL, for their fanbase to see this is a real problem, imagine what they can do. They can start being a voice for the voiceless, for the kids who are stuck in slavery.”
Q. Is awareness a problem?
A. “Awareness is the biggest problem. It’s not something you want to look at. It’s horrific. So it’s easy to turn a blind eye to it, but as long as we do that this problem isn’t going to go away. So we need to get the word out, and we can think of no one better than the Pittsburgh Steelers to help us do that.”
Ballard went on to give some statistics and explain why people from the US are uniquely positioned to help. Here are some of his stats and facts:
The US is the highest consumer in the world of child porn rape videos.
There are an estimated 250,000 children of US origin enslaved. [Remember, he is talking about actual children, not just “under-aged” teenagers. He is talking about 10 year olds and even younger.]
The State Dept estimates that 10,000 children are smuggled into the US to join the domestic sex slaves.
“We are the demand. When we go and offer our help to foreign governments for undercover operations, they love using us because we look like the clients.”
Q. How can people recognize this?
A. “People need to be aware of what’s going on around them. If you see a kid that just doesn’t seem to belong with the adult they are with—we have something inside of us that gives us a sense something is wrong. We encourage people to get a hold of the police, or call us and we’ll connect you with the right authorities.”
Q. How did you come to be partnered with the Steelers?
A. “Coach Tomlin called us earlier this year. He and his wife Kiya had seen some things in the media about what we do, and had discussed how they could get involved. It was a miracle call out of the blue — ‘Guys, come out and see us, I want to talk to you.’ I was just stunned.”
Q. What has the response from the team been like?
A. “The response from the team has just been overwhelming. They’re wearing our swag, they’re welcoming us to practices and events—they’re on board. It’s just inspiring to see.”
Q. Longterm what do you hope this partnership will bring?
A. Longterm, I hope this partnership will bring a furthering of the movement, that the whole world will rise us and say ‘We will not allow kids to be forced into slavery anymore.’ This is a vehicle that can do this.”
If you want to find out more about what they do, click here to visit their website.