Steelers

Kovacevic: It’s time Steelers behave like city’s team

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Antonio Brown in Latrobe. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

LATROBE, Pa. -- The Jaguars just suspended their best player for his behavior toward a local media member.

The Steelers wouldn't conceive of doing likewise.

And I know, I know, no one cares about the media having hurt feelings. The truth is, most in the media don't, either. I definitely don't. If I went running to my laptop complaining every time a player, coach, manager or team official came at me, that's all one would ever read on this site. Backlash is part and parcel of sports reporting, especially when it comes to expressing opinion.

So I don't bring this up to support the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette, the subject of Antonio Brown's tweet last night ripping Bouchette for reporting that he was limping off the field after a drill yesterday in Latrobe:

Bouchette, my former colleague at the newspaper and still a friend, doesn't need my support or anyone else's. He's a big boy, and he's dealt with worse. So have all veteran beat writers, including our own Dale Lolley.

No, the reason I bring this up is to underscore the difference between the two instances described above.

Sunday afternoon in Jacksonville, Jalen Ramsey, the Jaguars' brash, brilliant All-Pro corner, watched a couple teammates get into a brief shoving match, the kind that happen all the time in the heat -- literally -- of a summer NFL training camp:

Phil Heilman, beat writer at the Florida Times-Union, did what any of us would have done in the modern age: He recorded video of the altercation with his phone. And he did so, it's important to note, while adhering to the team's rules about what can and can't be shot at a camp practice.

Ramsey spotted Heilman and another reporter recording what happened, walked their way and went into a vulgar tirade threatening them against showing the video to anyone, even though, again, the recording was done within team rules.

And later, when the Times-Union posted the video, Ramsey turned to Twitter to snarl:

To repeat, this part of the story isn't interesting. Not the altercation. Not the exchange. Certainly not the tweet.

But this is: At 7 p.m., the Jaguars announced they were suspending Ramsey for a week " for violating team rules and conduct unbecoming of a Jaguars football player." And shortly after that, they leaked to NFL Network that it was because of Ramsey's behavior toward local media.

It isn't clear who initiated the suspension, whether it was head coach Doug Marrone, GM Dave Caldwell, or all the way up to that famed disciplinarian Tom Coughlin, who's running the front office there. Maybe it was all three, for all we know.

Whatever the case, the point was made: There's a certain way a Jacksonville player is expected to behave.

What exactly is that in Pittsburgh?

A few months ago, a reporter for our site was waiting to interview a receiver who's no longer with the Steelers. That receiver, visibly put off that he was asked to do an interview, turned to Mike Tomlin nearby and asked, "Coach, do I have to talk to this guy?" And Tomlin's response was, "Man, you don't ever have to talk to that --------."

I've never shared that story, for reasons laid out above. It's way too common and, again, not many would or should care.

But what does it say for Tomlin, who's primarily responsible for his players' collective behavior, just as Marrone is in Jacksonville, that the Jaguars handled Ramsey's scenario the way they did and the Steelers will completely ignore AB's outburst?

Or any of the billion other outbursts they've had, both in person and on social media in recent years?

Longtime readers know I loathe this subject.

Most forcefully, I loathe the part where Tomlin gets cast as some player-friendly miscreant when compared to Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, since both of his predecessors had their own massive discipline issues. If anything, the similarities between all three are striking, if not an outright common bond, in this regard. Based on stories I've heard, if we had social media in the 1970s and 1980s, those guys would make these guys look angelic.

I also can't stand how discipline has become the singular complaint. In hosting a radio show last week on 105.9 the X, I went so far as to dismiss it as "sideshow garbage" and pleaded with callers to come at me with "real football" and "real explanations" for why this gifted group of Steelers hasn't won a Super Bowl. And no matter how I pleaded, the answers kept spitting up the same tired stuff.

Discipline isn't the primary reason.

Discipline also isn't why the Steelers lost to the Jaguars. They lost that game primarily because the defensive line was banged up beyond recognition, because Jacksonville offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett smartly exploited that with play-action, and because Blake Bortles and Leonard Fournette put forth exceptional performances. But since none of that qualifies as compelling talk-show or social media fare, everyone latches instead onto AB's Facebook Live idiocy, Le'Veon Bell's latest woe-is-me rap, or whatever other silliness arises. Because that's more fun.

And yet, discipline does matter. It's very much a factor, even if it's not the factor.

And if it's even in the top 20 factors -- heck, the top 50! -- why is it allowed to continue?

Why wouldn't Tomlin or, to compare again to the Jacksonville hierarchy, Kevin Colbert or even Art Rooney II, stamp this out?

Why wouldn't they tell everyone to just shut up already and focus 100 percent on the task at hand?

This isn't about AB vs. one reporter. I'm talking about addressing the whole scope. I'm talking about ending the embarrassment. Ban social media usage through the season. Make real rules for public behavior in all settings, actually, and enforce them like you mean it. Like the Jaguars did. If a player wants to behave like a petulant child, treat him as such. It's not like that player will stomp off and forfeit millions of dollars.

Let all concerned understand that, whether it's fair or not, the Steelers -- the Pittsburgh Steelers -- have a very real problem in how they're perceived by far too many of the people who love the franchise the most. And from there, let them know that, if they don't plan on being part of correcting that, then they're actually the problem.

I hate this. I really do. All of it.

When my family was overseas a couple weeks ago and someone would ask where I'm from, I'd never answer, "America." I'd always say just "Pittsburgh." I've done that forever as a way to find out if they know about us. And on this trip, just like so many times before, that person would come right back with "Pittsburgh Steelers!"

The Steelers are our identity to the world. They're our face.

It's damned well time they started acting like it again.

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