With half the country seemingly at the throat of the other half of the country, it’s just a matter of time before teammates start slugging it out – hopefully figuratively rather than literally – over social justice issues like what Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt has chimed in on.
Fortunately for Tuitt, it’s a case of “so far, so good.”
Pittsburgh Steelers defender Stephon Tuitt won’t kneel
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt says he won’t kneel during the playing of the national anthem before NFL games. He was most unapologetic, too, tweeting to his 110,000 followers, “screw anybody who have a problem with that.”
It’s probably the most high-profile statement on the subject by an active player since New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Less than two weeks after the May 25 killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, Brees repeated his long-held belief that kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful to the flag and the country.
His belief was strongly tied to family history; Brees cited his grandfathers, who both served in the military in World War II, “both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place.”
It earned the star signal-caller immediate condemnation from many teammates and other players across the league. Politicians and television commentators also criticized the future Hall of Famer. He issued multiple apologies for his words in the days that followed.
However, Tuitt also invoked family in his explanation.
“My grandmother was a immigrant from the Carribean and age worked her ass off to bring 20 people over the right way,” he wrote. “She had no money and educated herself to be a nurse. She living good now.”
Stephon Tuitt has been an asset on the field
Stephon Tuitt is entering his seventh season with the Pittsburgh Steelers after being drafted in the second round in 2014 out of Notre Dame. He was a second-team All-American as a sophomore but his junior season was slowed by hernia surgery. Tuitt passed up his final year of eligibility to turn pro.
Injuries have been an issue in his NFL career, with Tuitt logging the full 16 games only as a rookie. His 2019 season was shaping up as his best yet with 3.5 sacks and 22 tackles before being ended by a torn pectoral muscle after six games.
His career totals include 201 tackles and 23.5 sacks in 64 starts and 76 games overall. That gives him both name recognition among fans and credibility with teammates in the locker room.
The Steelers have been through this before
Stephon Tuitt said what he wanted to say on Twitter, then signaled he wanted to turn the focus back to football by tweeting an Instagram link to video of football drills and writing, “Shut out the Noise and Work.”
A full day after announcing his decision to stand for the national anthem, there was no significant reaction. It may have to do in part with the fact that the Steelers have gone through the anthem discussion more intensely than most other teams.
“We’ve spent a lot of group time talking about the ongoing issues, talking about the platform that they have and how to best utilize it and how to do so thoughtfully,” head coach Mike Tomlin said last month. “Our position is simple: We’re going to support our players and their willingness to participate in this – whether it’s statements or actions.”
When version 1.0 of the protest was taking place in September 2017, Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva ended up apologizing to teammates after being the only Pittsburgh player remaining on the field for the anthem prior to a game in Chicago.
In a protest largely aimed at comments by President Donald Trump, the team had agreed everyone would stay in the locker room. Villanueva, a West Point graduate and commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, hadn’t cleared the field in time and decided it would create more of a scene if he left during the anthem than if he stayed.
“Unfortunately, I threw (my teammates) under the bus, unintentionally,” he said then. “Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself, I feel embarrassed.”