While various teams choose to incite controversy the Stanley Cup champions take the professional high road, and the press refuses to celebrate – instead they stir the pot.
The NFL is currently in the midst of a perpetual news cycle of its own creation. While the messaging was said to be on point across the league, with players, coaches, and owners mostly toeing the same line, there has been fissures in this bold front. Take a look at what transpired in Pittsburgh to see the conflict inside the locked-arm circles.
While many teams were divided as to how many on the roster would kneel, or link arms in solidarity, or stand in solemn honor of the national anthem, the Pittsburgh Steelers decided on a novel approach. The team elected to remain in the locker room during the anthem, as a sign of a unified front. However one player bucked this decision; lineman Alejandro Villanueva came out and stood proudly, and he became one of the few inspiring stories out of Sunday’s dust storm.
Villanueva is already a national hero. He is a West Point graduate who served 3 tours in the Middle East, earning The Bronze Star for his leadership while his platoon came under enemy ambush. However he has become a reluctant figurehead in the new national pastime: Pro Sports Social Hectoring. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin actually condemned Villanueva’s act, as he went against team mores. “Like I said, I was looking for 100 percent participation, we were gonna be respectful of our football team,” said the coach.
This sinks us into the rabbit hole of contemporary athletic activism: As the media cheer the athletes who “bravely” kneel we have a decorated war veteran castigated for standing for the anthem.
What is revealing is that as the Steelers vied to avoid confusion and controversy they are now mired in it. Instead of allowing Villanueva to be a positive symbol coach Tomlin has made him an example. Villanueva is now apologizing for his act. Yet at the same time quarterback Ben Rothlesberger released a statement expressing remorse that they did not come out for the anthem.
Amazingly were are being bombarded with media narratives telling us we need to listen to these vaunted minds, who cannot even seem to get their message straight from one day to the next.
Now enter the Pittsburgh Penguins. Earlier in the week President Trump got in a Twitter snit with Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Curry commented he would not want to attend a team visit to the White House to celebrate their championship. Trump, employing his usual sophomoric petulance then declared he would not be inviting the team. Nobody looks the better, and all blame the others for the mud they had slung.
Days later an invitation went out to the Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins, and the reaction is one of polar opposites. The team issued a statement regarding their accepting the invitation, and it was one reflecting something in short supply in sports these days; it featured dignity and class.
The Pittsburgh Penguins respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House. We attended White House ceremonies after previous championships – touring the historic building and visiting briefly with Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama – and have accepted an invitation to attend again this year.
Any agreement or disagreement with a president’s politics, policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways. However, we very much respect the rights of other individuals and groups to express themselves as they see fit.
The media meanwhile saw this even-handed level-headed politically-neutral response — and they promptly saw it as a problem, because the team was not initiating a problem.
How tone deaf can you get, Penguins? I'm embarrassed for hockey today. Do you realize what you're condoning by attending the White House?
— Matt Larkin (@THNMattLarkin) September 25, 2017
Going to be embarrassing for hockey when the Penguins do visit the White House. I'd be shocked if hockey players took a stand against it.
— Ian McLaren (@iancmclaren) September 23, 2017
This is where we are as a nation. Supposedly they are campaigning against the mindset of anger, disruption, and intolerance. Here you have a sports franchise decided to set aside contretemps, and they are coming under fire because of it.
The media is supposedly outraged at the divisiveness in our social landscape, yet here they are actively rooting for a team to engage in divisive behavior. Because…they are supposedly against that sort of thing…as they actively cheer it on…so they can condemn those very actions…which they encouraged.