Last night, I watched three quarters (give or take) of a hugely important Steeler’s divisional game. We lost, and that was disappointing. But even more disappointing is the constant reminder of the fallibility of the human race. That might sound odd. So let me rewind a bit.
The Steelers are in the North Division of the AFC (in case this sounds like a foreign language, the NFL consists of the AFC and the NFC, each of which contain sixteen teams, broken down into four divisions of four teams; the most recent reorganization of all the teams occurred in 2002 when the Houston Texans joined the NFL). The AFC North has had a myriad of teams and multiple names, but the Steelers and Browns have been part of the division (minus the three years that the Browns were ‘deactivated’ following then-owner Art Modell’s decision to move the franchise to Baltimore in 1996 and forming the Baltimore Ravens) since the beginning. Since the most recent realignment in 2002, the AFC North consists of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns (back in 1999 as an expansion team) and the Cincinnati Bengals.
From the perspective of a Steelers fan (as I am sure it varies depending on which team one supports), prior to the Brown’s move to Baltimore in 1996, the Steelers’ biggest rival was Cleveland. Following the controversial move of the franchise, Baltimore has become Steeler’s fans’ most hated opponent. Watching the season opener this year, and the Raven’s blatant steam-rolling of my team, made last night’s game even more intense. Especially following such a tough game last week (and one in which the Steelers emerged triumphant following years of Tom Brady coming into their house and shutting them down).
I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I have a pretty deep passion for my team ~ possibly bordering on irrational at times. I love the Steeler’s organization, and the way in which the Rooney’s choose to run their NFL team. I believe that being a Steeler says something about a player’s humanity, and when a player’s conduct, or personal mores and/or values are not in line with that of the organization, most of the time that player is traded or released. (Most recent case in point: Santonio Holmes’ trade in the offseason to the NY Jets following being named the MVP of Superbowl XLIII in the Steeler’s win over the Arizona Cardinals. His crimes? Apparently misconduct involving marijuana possession and charges of assault). Also occurring in the offseason of 2009? Ben Roethlisberger’s major infraction involving an allegedly underaged girl in a bar and heavy words, like sexual assault and rape. But we’ll get back to that.
Bottom line, I am a true, bleeding black and gold Steeler’s fan. As silly as it sounds, even when life is a little rough around the edges, or falling completely apart (as mine has in the past), the Steelers are there on Sundays, and it’s a very simple game. Over 60 minutes, either they score more points than their opponent, or they don’t. To me, football isn’t all about stats, individual players, fantasy leagues, and all the other mumbo jumbo that is inevitably a part of the NFL culture. It’s about Sundays, and whether or not the Steelers score more points than whoever they face on the field.
I hate it when they don’t. It physically feels disappointing, as though my heart has sunk in my chest from the weight of the loss. It’s infinitely more disappointing losing to the Ravens for a second time in a season. I have a deep dislike for the men who wear purple and hail from Baltimore. But with that dislike there is respect, as there must be for any opponent who is constantly a challenge, who constantly elevates and motivates their rival to produce their best effort.
Last night, in a fit of heated frustration, I decided to voice my opinion about the Ravens on Facebook. Following last week’s dominant win, it was difficult watching the Steelers struggle to move the ball on the ground and complete passes. Additionally (as is always the case) I felt that there were some questionable calls on the field, and some downright objectionable ball placements (I especially felt this way watching the Patriots Giants game- which aired before the Steelers took to the field for SNF).
So to preface my subsequent comments, let me just say. 1. I believe (and it is my opinion) that the NFL tends to regulate their players and organizations, and establish rules and levy fines and hold members to a certain standard better than some of the other major sports organizations. 2. I love the Steelers, and despite being utterly disappointed at times (much more than I was at their loss yesterday) I will always love them, unless they somehow manage to become everything about the NFL that I dislike. I don’t believe that will ever be the case. I will defend them even if I don’t always agree with the action taken. 3. When I think about football, and the teams and players involved, it’s rarely on a personal level. It’s normally all about what happens between endzones on a field once a week. When things make national news, it’s unavoidable. But in general, what players do on their own time doesn’t catch my fancy. I like when they’re suited up in black and gold, and fighting for 10 yards at at time. Life isn’t black and white, but games are. At the end a winner and a loser emerge. And it’s solely about what happened on the grass for 60 minutes.
Before I begin though, there is another side to the story.
If my mind was heavy with thoughts of professionals in the NFL getting a pass for doing reprehensible things, nothing can describe how I felt as I hit my stride on the treadmill yesterday morning only to find myself reading about Jerry Sandusky’s many, erm, indiscretions (not even close to the kind of powerful word that should be used here) that spanned years ~ years!!! ~ and have been under investigation for the past three. In my mind, there are no explanations that can wash away the shame he has brought to a University that I have loved practically since birth (or at least since when I understood what love and team loyalty was) and am proud to call my alma mater. All of it is so new and fresh and continues to compound in its level of horrific-ness as each new piece unfolds. My initial reaction? I’m utterly devastated, but even moreso, I’m furious that someone could tarnish a University that prides itself on its morals and standards because somehow their need to indulge in whatever it is they indulged in somehow trumped the history and integrity of Penn State and the love and belief that thousands of students and alma mater have in it. I have held my head high for years because I believed in what Penn State stood for, and I believed in what Joe Paterno upheld in our football program ~ that university is first and foremost a place to learn, both academically and socially; that Penn State teaches everyone as equally as possible, to both know information, and to be the best version of oneself that one can be. I took great pride in Penn State’s reputation, and in JoePa.
I feel, as I watch this train wreck unfold across every media source imaginable, so utterly let down by something I loved so deeply. In an even worse redux of Ben’s allegations two years ago, I wonder if what I believed in ever existed at all. There is nothing more heart-breaking than that.
So how does a person reconcile all these things? Ben Roethlisberger, a alleged rapist. Ray Lewis, an alleged murderer. Jerry Sandusky, trumping them both, an alleged child molester.
Ben Roethlisberger, two-time Super Bowl winning QB and team leader. Ray Lewis, Super Bowl MVP and the heart and soul of the Raven’s organization. Jerry Sandusky, defensive coordinator for one of the best and most respected collegiate athletic programs.
What does it mean when organizations that make a point of outlining and upholding standards handle situations like this in what can only be thought of (especially in the case of Penn State) as questionable? Where are the lines? Can some be crossed and others not? How did the Steelers, the Rooneys and the coaching staff, led by Mike Tomlin, decide that Ben’s situations (in Reno and Georgia) could be forgiven, but Holmes’ could not? How did eight boys over fifteen years allegedly get molested and no one in the Penn State organization be aware of it? Isn’t it ironic (I had to look this up last night) that Lewis struck a deal to testify against his co-defendants, both of whom were later aquitted ~ and that the suit he was wearing the night of the alleged murder was never found?
How do we, as fans, go back to watching and enjoying football, when there -at times- feels to be an undercurrent of the miscarriage of justice? So, Ben is absolved of his sins, he ‘finds’ God, gets married and all is forgiven? Ray Lewis becomes a pillar of goodness in the Raven’s organization and it’s all good? Plaxico Burress shot himself and did time. He didn’t injure someone else. He didn’t violate someone or take their life. He shot himself. And he did time. How do you reconcile all these things and find the common thread that unifies all the decisions made and the verdicts given? As I mentioned before, it’s heart-breaking.
So, whether anyone agrees with me or not, I choose to love my teams when they are just that ~ teams, on the field, August through (hopefully) January every year, physically fighting it out yard by yard.
I don’t have a good explanation for what Ben did, how he handled it, or why the organization I love, the Pittsburgh Steelers, chose the path they did. I don’t want to think about Ray Lewis other than twice a year when we face him on the field, and where I give him respect for who he is as a football player. In regards to Penn State, it’s so much more personal and on such an otherworldly level right now (after all, I’ve had nearly two years, and a season and a half of football to reconcile with Ben) that in general, I’m just speechless. I’m speechless at the allegations levied against Sandusky, and I’m speechless that something so utterly terrible will forever change my school. In general, the fallibility of the human race, and the grand stage of football that presents it in regards to the above men, make me sad.
As a regular person, who goes to work every Monday through Friday, I want to believe in something greater than myself ~ I want to be part of something greater than myself. I want to believe that the organizations and people that I put my faith and love into are infallible, and will never let me down. But humanity is fallible. And with that comes the painful heartache of having to come to terms with the reality of situations, such as rape allegations, murder allegations and sexual molestation. To me, it doesn’t feel fair. I feel now, processing the Sandusky situation, much as I felt in 2009 when Ben made the news repeatedly for his incredibly questionable behavior. Embarrassed, let down, misled.
Also, as I come to the end of this rant, I find that I don’t know how to finish what I’ve been rambling about. So I’ll say this (again). I love the Steelers. I couldn’t imagine being a fan of any other NFL team. I love Penn State. I am proud to call it my alma mater, and I am proud of the tenets of, in my opinion, one of the best public collegiate institutions. Neither the Steelers organization nor the Pennsylvania State University, despite my deepest wishes, are infallible. And while that is disappointing, I still love them both. That doesn’t mean that I don’t find things such as the above troubling. It only means that I love them, damages and all.