Echoing Heyward, Tomlin sentiments over drama and the Steelers

After a disappointing end to the 2017 NFL season, it has been refreshing to see the Pittsburgh Steelers well represented at the Pro Bowl in Orlando, Florida, this year. After all, players are still people and the Pro Bowl events leading up to the big game were entertaining to watch (head over to the Steelers’ official Twitter feed to see some of the best action), especially when being given a look at how their personalities shine when they aren’t under pressure. Unfortunately, 2017 was a season that was riddled with extra pressure for the Steelers during their season as a result of unnecessary drama. Defensive leader Cameron Heyward shared the sentiment that much of what drew attention was much ado about nothing, calling for his team and teammates to do better about controlling the ‘noise’, as did head coach Mike Tomlin, and I echo the sentiments

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Without going into a full-blown recap, the Steelers seemingly faced some type of distraction on and off the field nearly every week of the regular season that continued into the post-season. It may have kicked off with fans angered by how the NFL handled national anthem protests and how the Steelers were perceived as a part of growing national unrest. The different incidents definitely got the attention of the news media who has a tendency to overblow perceptions in favor of getting people hyped-up over how players and coaches ‘behave’.

Whether it was fans berating players via social media, Tomlin’s mention of the New England Patriots at a time some felt he should have been talking about the Jacksonville Jaguars, fallout over a now-debunked social media nightmare that Martavis Bryant wanted to be traded (according to a woman claiming to be close to him), Le’Veon Bell‘s statements regarding what may happen if the team were to franchise tag him, calls for Todd Haley’s firing…it all got blown up, just like the innocent Gatorade jug that Antonio Brown took his frustration out on early in the year. It got to the point that our own Zach Metkler began posting a drama-free days countdown image on his Twitter account.

Heyward, known for his leadership, was vocal about the level of disappointment he had when the Steelers’ season ended the way it did. “Every team goes through different things throughout the year,” Heyward said after the loss to the Jaguars in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. “It just hurts to think this is the last time this particular group will be together… This team is not going to be the same next year. Whoever is here has to be ready to answer the challenge.” Heyward issued a challenge for his teammates to get better, to do better.

From the Pro Bowl events, Heyward echoed much of that sentiment in a soundbite to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. He refuted an ongoing narrative outside of the team that the Steelers lacked discipline in 2017 and that much of that was due to Tomlin. That overblown social narrative has morphed into public calls for Tomlin’s firing to rumors of the front office ‘cleaning house’ and that players were unfocused.

Heyward did admit that things like Brown’s expression of frustration towards a Gatorade cooler became an issue when it wasn’t.  “I’ve gotten mad in certain situations, but because it’s Antonio Brown, it gets blown out of proportion,” Heyward admitted. “Let’s not give more food to the outside noise. Get back to business.”

Heyward then asked, “Who’s to say we have to have all that stuff going on?” In other words, how much of the drama was elevated to a level that made it seem significant when it wasn’t? Fans were responsible for how certain incidents were perceived and most frequently responsible for flaming the fires across social media platforms. Fake news, click-bait ad-driven sites were guilty…and even ESPN fed into the idea that the Steelers were a team that had little direction at different times during the season.

“Guys got to grow. I thought it got way too much media publicity… We’ve got to close ranks and get back to work.” — Cam Heyward

With Randy Fichtner taking over as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, the naming of Darryl Drake as the new wide receivers coach and the fact that Mike Munchak was retained as the offensive line coach, some of the buzz that the Steelers need drastic change – among their leadership and their roster – has quieted.

“One of the things that is changing in our business is the media attention and part of it is the development of social media and things of that nature,” Tomlin said in a press conference last week. “The amount of attention we all get is tenfold what it was 10-15 years ago… What is important is what we say to one another.” Tomlin went on to admit that there is no way to control what happens on social media.

Nearly as soon as he’d finished his thoughts (per someone asked about the coaching staff and whether there’d be changes. His response: “I am not ready to discuss that at this point.”

What came out on social media? The idea that Tomlin had not given his staff a vote of confidence, that he was evasive and more speculation as to whether Tomlin would or would not be fired…and whether he should be.

“Some of it is just quite frankly a joke,” Tomlin said of the information and misinformation that gets floated on social media. “I can’t dance that dance…There is too much real stuff going on with us, tangible things, preparation things, role things, workplace things that are real as opposed to perceived, or interpreted or potential.”

Can the Steelers – players and coaches – improve behavior and how they are perceived? Absolutely, and like Heyward stated, they need to. Distractions lead to inefficiencies in how the team performs. It can also lead to non-issues becoming the thing everyone is forced to focus on. The team can be better about not feeding the dragon that is waiting for more dramatic material to chew on.

Can the media and fans do better about not turning literally every nuance, action, discussion or conversation into a world-changing event? Sure. In echoing Heyward and Tomlin, we can all do better.

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