Pittsburgh Steelers players who kneel will have Mike Tomlin, the support of the organization

PITTSBURGH – Players who choose to kneel during the national anthem will be supported by coach Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers organization, the coach said in a video conference Tuesday.

Speaking for the first time since George Floyd’s death while in police custody and the widespread protests for justice and racial equality that followed, Tomlin said he supports players in any statement or action they wish to take, “as long as do it so carefully and classy. “

“We have spent a lot of group time talking about current issues, talking about the platform they have and how to best use it and how to do it carefully,” said Tomlin. “Our position is simple: we will support our players and their willingness to participate in this, be it statements or actions.

“You know my feelings, I have said it in the past: the statements are good, but the impact is better, particularly the long-term impact. Those who want to participate in a positive way will be supported by us.”

Although many athletes and professional sports teams are being scrutinized for their actions, or lack thereof, in the wake of the protests, Tomlin is not focusing on any league-wide initiative to use a large platform.

“That is not my charge,” he said. “I hadn’t thought much about the impact of the NFL or the responsibility of us in general.

“I really focus my energies on serving the players I lead and making sure they get the support they need regarding the current circumstances. I have taken a narrower grassroots approach. There are people who are employed to have that perspective and I am not one from them “.

Like many NFL teams, Tomlin and the Steelers last started these discussions in 2017 when some players echoed quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s actions in 2016 by kneeling down during the anthem to raise awareness of police brutality, a movement that was criticized by President Donald Trump. In addition to saying in a speech that NFL owners should “get that motherfucker off the field” if a player knelt, he said they should fire or suspend players who protested the national anthem.

That year, the Steelers emphasized unity and wanted to stay together in the locker room during the national anthem at Soldier Field in Chicago in late September, and typically soccer-focused Tomlin said his team “would not play politics.”

But offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, a former army ranger who toured Afghanistan, was photographed standing just inside a tunnel entrance to the field with his right hand over his heart during the hymn after being separated from the group of captains for a banner.

The image promoted the idea that the Steelers were not united in the decision to remain in the locker room, something that still frustrates team members.

“What bothered me about that is that what we were trying to do is stay out of the spotlight and it turned upside down,” Captain Cam Heyward said last week. “Know that they saw us as leaving one of our brothers outside and leaving Al [Villanueva] when we really ran dry, we were separated by a arriving Play60 flag and when the national anthem began, we were separated.

“It was never our intention to exclude a player. We are living in a climate where boys need to know that they have a platform and that they should be able to express their opinions.”

This time, the team’s discussions on social justice have been different from those of three years ago.

Since the protests after Floyd’s murder, the Steelers have had several team discussions about the state of the country and racial injustice. The team has not publicly declared any planned action or protest plans, although some have privately voiced plans to kneel, but there have been “structural committees” formed by lifelong assistant head coach John Mitchell and Blayre Holmes, director of the Steelers. community relations.

“This period of time, this virtual offseason has really given us time to open the forum and listen to those guys about some of those critical things that are happening in our society,” said Tomlin. “We are members of society like everyone else. We do not live in a vacuum. It has been good open communication.”