Why All the Shaming and Slamming Steelers for Not Signing Kaepernick?
The Pittsburgh Steelers, as well as three other NFL teams, are under attack from national sports reporting outlets and others for their decision not to sign quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Steelers, because of Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury, are now lumped into the barrel of discontent as the Indianapolis Colts, the New York Jets and the New Orleans Saints — teams which have also lost starting quarterbacks due to injuries or, in the case of the Colts, a preseason retirement announcement. The word boycott has even been tossed into the barrel by Martin Luther King III, the son of the slain civil rights leader expressing to TMZ a possible wake-up call to the NFL through turning off the TV and streaming devices.
What makes the Steelers stand alone from the other league members subject to the ladle-to-pan banging mentality of a collection of talking heads and writers, clamoring for the team to sign Kaepernick, is the storied background of the franchise as it pertains to civil rights issues. In 1969, prior to accepting the job as head coach, Chuck Noll insisted he not be questioned about the racial make-up of the players roster. The unwritten rule throughout the NFL at time limited the positions where persons of color would play as well as total number of minority players on a roster. The Rooney family agreed to Noll’s demand.
The Steelers, around the same time, hired the sports editor of the city’s African American newspaper (The Pittsburgh Courier) as a part-time scout, focusing on athletes performing on the gridiron fields of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). From these colleges the Steelers would draft — or sign as free agents — such notable 1970s players as cornerback Mel Blount (Southern Univeristy), wide receiver John Stallworth (Alabama A&M University), safety Donnie Shell, defensive end L.C. Greenwood (Arkansaw-Pine Bluff) as well as linebacker Greg Lloyd (Fort Valley State University) in the late 1980s. Bill Nunn eventually accepted a full-time scouting position with the organization.
Not caring about the color of a player’s skin led to Noll being interviewed by 60 Minutes in 1974 regarding his decision to bench quarterback Terry Bradshaw after the preseason and replacing him with another quarterback, one with a HBCU background, Joe Gilliam. A year later, Pittsburgh’s outstanding quartet of defensive linemen were featured on the cover of Time magazine, bringing about a comment from one of them, All-Pro defensive tackle Joe Greene, describing how it was a proud moment to have four ‘brothers’ spotlighted on a national news magazine.
Fast-forward to 2015 and under a controversial set of circumstances, the Steelers front office and coach Mike Tomlin weighed the potential repercussions — signing Michael Vick, still seeing relentless media and public scorn for his conviction surrounding the dog-fighting scandal for which he was convicted and served nearly two years of prison time as a result — due to quarterback injury issues similar to today’s Steelers. No doubt, the team took a media hit from animal rights groups and likely lost various forms of fan support for the move.
Timing — It’s not just for comics! The Steelers organization and its fans are just adjusting to a return to the Steelers Way. Wide receiver Antonio Brown’s antics of the past couple seasons, along with the holdout of running back Le’Veon Bell, brought frustration from all angles and on a seemingly continual basis. 2019 is a back-to-normal season, from Art Rooney II, coach Mike Tomlin, and all the way throughout the locker room.
The call for a Kaepernick signing by Pittsburgh, because of the organization’s past — including the late Dan Rooney’s creation of what’s been dubbed the ‘Rooney Rule’ requiring the NFL coach interview process to include minority candidates — shouldn’t be used as the bell cow for demanding the quarterback’s signing. Several media members point to Kaepernick’s statistics and his playing style more in tune with the NFL, saying he was the league’s Lamar Jackson before Lamar Jackson.
Hello! Greg Roman, the current Baltimore offensive coordinator was a Jim Harbaugh assistant when the San Francisco 49ers designed the read option and similar plays to take advantage of Kaepernick’s athletic ability. Roethlisberger is known for extending plays by ducking and weaving around 300 lb. defenders, but the Steelers playbook certainly isn’t set up for the read option.
Kaepernick has been on the shelf for three seasons. Sure, social media posts are boastful of him jumping out of bed for three hour early morning workouts. The NFL won’t admit it but fans get to see in the first week of real games how sloppy play is due to starters seeing limited preseason action. If starters are sloppy due to modified training camp rules and limited play, how much playing rust is created over 36 months?
The competitor in Kaepernick must also be factored into the equation. When Vick was picked up by the Steelers, he was nearing the end of his career and he fully recognized his role was as a back-up. Kaepernick, as the media onslaught has pointed out, still in his prime. How long would it be before he expresses his feelings about riding the pine? Second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph was drafted in 2018 as a possible successor to Roethlisberger. Signing Kaepernick creates what the media and fans love — an instant quarterback controversy. No thanks! Pittsburgh and its fans have had their fill of locker room drama.