CHICAGO – The Steelers lost a football game in spectacular fashion Sunday.
Losing 23-17 in overtime was the kind of meltdown we’ve seen at least once a year for, well, seemingly forever from Pittsburgh.
What also happened Sunday is the Steelers might also have lost some fans because of their decision to stay in the tunnel during the singing of the national anthem rather than going to the field as they have typically done.
But understand something regarding the stance they took at, of all places, Soldier Field.
They didn’t feel like they had a choice in the matter.
The Steelers had not had a player take a knee during the singing of the anthem. They had not had a player raise a fist or stay on the bench or otherwise show any kind of disrespect to the anthem.
When President Donald Trump made a statement Friday in Alabama regarding professional athletes, he painted all NFL players with the same brush.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘get that son of a b**** off the field right now. He’s fired,’” Trump said.
Some say Trump is a divisive figure.
In this case, he was a great uniter, finding a way to galvanize a league.
The Steelers players met Saturday night at their team hotel and decided that, despite not having made any political statements in the past, they had to draw the line at that statement.
“When you call out a group of guys because they decide to do something that is their constitutional right an SOB and (say he) should be fired, what would you do?” guard Ramon Foster said. “Was there a choice?”
That’s the way the Steelers felt. And so they stayed in the tunnel while the anthem was sung before the game at a field named in honor of those who have served the nation in the military.
They didn’t raise a fist. They didn’t take a knee. They didn’t turn their back on the flag. They simply chose not to participate in what became a league-wide protest Sunday.
Other teams followed suit, with Seattle and Tennessee choosing not to come out for the anthem before their game in Nashville.
“It wasn’t my decision,” said head coach Mike Tomlin of the team staying in the tunnel. “Like most teams in the National Football League, we did not ask for this. This was placed upon us by circumstance. I heard rumblings from the guys talking during the course of the day (Saturday) and my contention was that we not allow politics to divide us. We are football players and a football team. … I asked those guys to discuss it and whatever they discussed (doing), we would have 100 percent participation or we do nothing.
“They couldn’t come to an understanding, so they chose to remove themselves from it.”
But they also understood there will be ramifications, good or bad, perhaps when the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players union is negotiated.
The players know they get a cut of whatever the NFL owners bring in. And they know that when they take a stance as they did across the league Sunday, it won’t always be popular.
“It wasn’t a black or white thing. A group of guys were forced into a situation,” Foster said. “If you guys don’t understand that and feel the same passion about it we do, we’ll see five years from now, when viewership is down.”
In the meantime, the Steelers played a game against the Chicago Bears, and they didn’t play it well.
Maybe it was because the team was distracted by what had transpired. Maybe it was because they were flat, not ready to play or any of the other catch phrases that get thrown around when what should be a superior team loses to an inferior one.
But it certainly happened all over the league.
Blame the president. Blame Colin Kaepernick for starting us down this road with his protests last season. Blame a league that likes to wrap itself in the flag and patriotism every chance it gets. There’s plenty to go around, depending on who you talk to.
Whatever you do, however, let’s try to focus on the fact the Steelers played poorly, not anywhere close to their potential.
The Steelers felt they were challenged by Trump and they responded.
Unfortunately for them, they also were challenged by the Bears and did not respond in kind.
That should be what we’re talking about today.
Unfortunately, it became so much more than that.
Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org