Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why I proudly support the Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers will face the Green Bay Packers in Superbowl XLV. Obviously, this is an exciting time for me - a staunch Steeler fan. In this piece, I try to lay out what exactly makes me such a strong supporter of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
A little history. I grew up in India, and was not really aware of American football till I came to the US for graduate school - to Pittsburgh. But it was not till I moved to Urbana-Champaign, IL, for my post-doc, that I started really following the Steelers. At that time, I, an unapologetic city-slicker, felt lost in the small college town, two hours away from any city - and I did not drive at that time, either!
What to do? I started feeling nostalgic for Pittsburgh, the last city I was in. But I couldn't afford to go there very often. I had, however, started following American football - and guess what, the Steelers were becoming the powerhouse that they are today. It was Big Ben Roethlisberger's rookie year, and it was magical - the Steelers went 15-1, won the AFC No. 1 seed, and faced their nemesis, the New England Patriots, in the AFC Championship game. I went out and bought a television set specifically for this game, even though I feared the Steelers would lose. And they... lost.
But a connection was forged, and I have been a Steelers fan ever since - they were my link to "civilization" initially, but soon became part of my sentimental attachment to Pittsburgh, my "American hometown." (I even watched the Stanley Cup finals recently, just because the Pittsburgh Penguins were playing - and wouldn't you know it, they won!)

Since that year, the Steelers have been on a roll. They won Superbowl XL the following year, Bill Cowher's last as the Head Coach. The Steelers hired a young defensive co-ordinator, Mike Tomlin, as Cowher's replacement. Wonder of wonders, the Steelers went on to win Superbowl XLIII - Tomlin becoming the youngest head coach to win a Superbowl. And now, the Steelers and Tomlin might just win another ring.

But this year has been marred by Ben Roethlisberger's off-field shenanigans - he was accused of molesting/raping a woman (read more here.) No charges were filed, but Roethlisberger was suspended by the NFL for six games without pay. With good behavior, this was reduced to four. As a further consequence, many casual observers have started hating the Steelers, and purport to support the team with the "non-rapist quarterback" - any opponent of the Steelers.

Which makes me really sad. Don't get me wrong - I wish Ben Roethlisberger would keep it in his pants, so to speak. He has a past history of immature behavior - after winning his first Superbowl, he had an accident while riding his motorbike - sans helmet. And more crucially, he has now been accused twice of molesting/raping a woman.

But given that no charges have been filed, let alone proven, I cannot say with certainty that Ben Roethlisberger was guilty. And so this outpouring of hatred toward an organization that has a rich history, strikes me as highly unjustified.

Casual observers would do well to note that a football team is not just one person - there are 53 players on the roster, in addition to the coaches and management. And the Pittsburgh Steelers, I am proud to say, have many stalwarts in their midst. Here are some prominent examples:

1. The Rooneys, who own the team. They emphasize stability and give people a chance to develop their talents over many years - here's an excellent profile. Unlike many other NFL owners, they are not greedy. Asked his opinion on the NFL possibly switching to an 18-game regular season schedule instead of the current 16, Dan Rooney said:

"I’d rather not have the money."

The exact opposite of Gordon Gekko's "Greed is good" mantra. Isn't that what we want our sports personalities to not just say, but actually do?
An interesting tidbit: After each game, the Rooneys go into the locker room, and shake hands with every player - win or lose. I think this exemplifies the "it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game" spirit.

Further, the Rooney Rule, named for the Rooney family and in particular, Dan Rooney, requires each NFL team to interview minority candidates for head coaching and other senior-level football operation positions. And the Rooneys followed through on their own rule by hiring Mike Tomlin, who at that time did not have NFL head coaching experience. Tomlin is now one of only two African-American head coaches to have won a Superbowl (the Colts' Tony Dungy is the other.) And without the Rooneys' belief, Tomlin may not have had a chance.

2. Superbowl XL MVP, Hines Ward, who is of Black/Korean descent. The Hines Ward Helping Hands Korea Foundation helps biracial Korean kids achieve a positive self-image. For his work, Ward received the inaugural 2010 UN NGO Positive Peace Award in the Professional Athlete category.

“Hines Ward changed the cultural landscape of Korea,” said Janet Mintzer, president/CEO of Pearl S. Buck Intl. “After Japanese invasions, Korea placed high value on being pure-blooded Koreans, creating prejudice of bi-racial people. As a successful bi-racial Korean-American, he returned to Korea, creating media attention, which sparked a cultural shift.”

3. Ryan Clark, Safety. Clark has "sickle-cell trait", and since 2007, has been involved in efforts to raise awareness about the disease - for example, see this visit to a school, and he has helped the Children's Sickle Cell Foundation in Pittsburgh. (I believe Sports Illustrated's Peter King picked Ryan Clark as the person he'd like his kids to be like, though I can't find the quote right now.)

4. Then we have Troy Polamalu - one of the most dangerous players on the field, but serene and very humble off it. He never disparages an opponent, always talks about the team before himself, and is a devout Christian - but does not push it on anybody.

The problem, as I see it, is that people tend to focus on sensational stories rather than uplifting lives. A pity.

Go Steelers!


Unknown said...

Dude, the Cardinals will avenge. And, Rooney is a tool of the government, as, shortly after Obama was elected, a Rooney was "promoted" to some arbitrary foreign bullshi&*%^ery, and the officiating in the last minute allowed the improbable catch. Do you allow anyone to comment?

RS said...

Sorry, I hadn't checked for comments in a while - I am mostly over at Tumblr or Twitter.