Breaking news: Steelers didn’t like it, the Steelers made him look bad in the process
The Steelers enjoy, in most cases, a relationship with their players that entails the team telling the players how it’s going to be, and the players who still want to be Steelers going along with it. Running back Le’Veon Bell bucked that trend, the Steelers didn’t like it, the Steelers made him look bad in the process, and now apparently the fans will be turning on him.
That last part comes from a recent article by Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which quotes a reputation consultant from California (who knows the people of Pittsburgh like someone from California?) as declaring, “I think [Bell] has inflicted damage on his reputation.”
What follows from this California reputation consultant is a lot of the same-old predictable “fans resent players because they’re rich” nonsense, capped with the scorchingest of takes: “This is a critical test in a critical time for Le’Veon. It’s a very big threat to do these types of things and risk the rant of the core of what ultimately pays your paycheck. The fans are the owners at the end of the day. The fans are ultimately paying him and players shouldn’t forget that.”
The fans aren’t paying Bell, and the fans aren’t the owners. The owners are the owners. And the owner in this case, along with the people who work for him, have repeatedly worked the local media in an effort to pressure Bell — who wasn’t and still isn’t under contract — to take the franchise tender and report earlier than the rules require.
It’s been a surprising display. The Steelers, miffed that Bell didn’t take their offer on a long-term deal and frustrated by his willingness to exercise his prerogative to not accept the franchise tender until nearly the last possible moment, have repeatedly called him out. They also leaked incomplete details of the long-term deal he didn’t accept, and more recently they leaked the notion that they had a deal in place with Bell’s agent, but that Bell refused to go through with it.
With so much negativity about Bell being driven by the Steelers, what did the Steelers expect? Maybe they expected exactly what happened, since Bell’s supposed image problems will serve as a lesson to any player in the future who refuses to do what the team wants him to do.
The separate question is whether any of it matters. Seven years ago, Ben Roethlisberger had reached Voldemort status in Pittsburgh, with talk radio littered by a stream of calls from anyone and everyone who ever suffered the slightness of rudeness or indignities from the then-embattled franchise quarterback. And then his four-game suspension ended, the Steelers went to the Super Bowl, and it all was forgotten.
For Bell, it will quickly be forgotten if he plays like he has. Fans already have forgotten a pair of substance-abuse suspensions for Bell, including one for driving under the influence of marijuana. Those actions are, in theory, far more selfish than his refusal to accept a one-year contract for his services.
The fact that teammate Maurkice Pouncey has spoken out on Bell’s behalf may help, but it also could be too little and too late. Where was Pouncey when receiver Antonio Brown(perhaps unwittingly) was pressuring Bell to report for the start of camp? Or when G.M. Kevin Colbert, coach Mike Tomlin, Colbert (again), and owner Art Rooney II were making public statements aimed at getting him to do something he wasn’t compelled to do? Or when the team obviously was leaking information about failed long-term negotiations that made Bell look greedy and selfish?
Pouncey and other teammates should have been speaking out on Bell’s behalf weeks ago. If the California reputation consultant is right, those teammates should be supporting him even more now. Kept from the open market by the franchise tag, Bell is doing what any of them would be doing. Given what we now know about the long-term risks of playing football, hopefully fans will ignore the noise and understand that Bell is doing what any of them would do, too.