Sports Columnist

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

The Steelers report to St. Vincent College in Latrobe on Wednesday and the Ravens and Bears are already in camp. They’ll play the first NFL exhibition game in 10 days. And do you know what everybody is talking about?

The National Anthem.

No matter what happens on the field in the first preseason game, the postgame discussion will be be more about what players did during the performance of the Star Spangled Banner than what they did in the game.

Granted, most NFL preseason games go downhill after the National Anthem, but the discussion won’t be about who performs the song. It will be about who stayed in the locker room, who stood and who knelt.

The gutless NFL deserves everything it’s getting.

It could have ruled a long time ago that all players have to stand during the anthem and put punishments in place for the ones who don’t.

A few months ago, the owners got together and agreed to give players the choice of staying in the locker room during the playing of the song or standing for the song if they chose to be on the sideline.

The NFL Players Association filed a grievance against the league July 11. It claimed that the issue should have been collectively bargained and that the ruling violated players’ rights.

On Thursday, the Associated Press got a hold of the Miami Dolphins’ discipline document and it allowed for suspensions of up to four weeks for players who didn’t follow behavior guidelines during the National Anthem.

On Friday the NFL put a freeze on the anthem ruling pending more discussions with the NFLPA.

Have you noticed that this is the 12th paragraph and I haven’t mentioned anything about football?

Get used to it because, for at least the early part of the NFL season, it’s going to be all anthem all the time.

So, now the NFL is back to where it has been since the first time Colin Kaepernick didn’t stand. It either has to take a stand or stand down.

Make the players stand for the National Anthem. All players; no hiding in the locker room. Or make the announcement before the season that no one will sing or play The Star Spangled Banner before NFL games this year.

From a public relations standpoint, not playing the song might be the way to go. It would cause a major uproar and most people would be against the decision but, eventually, it would put it all on the players.

The league could say that the purpose of playing the song before the game has been eliminated. That it is supposed to be a communal civic ritual and, as political commentator Mark Steyn has said, “A National Anthem can be a communal public ritual or an opportunity for self expression. It can’t be both.”

It’s time for Roger Goodell to show some guts one way or the other or it’s time for him to resign. He should apologize for the league allowing something that’s supposed to bring disagreeable people together for two minutes to become one more major divisive issue and he should say there will be no National Anthem until further notice.

Surrender. Let the players fight it out among themselves. Let them defend, in Steyn’s words, “The hollowing out of one of the last unifying civic rituals in a divided nation.”

Tee it up and kick off.

  • Say what you want about Le’Veon Bell’s decision to turn down the Steelers’ offer and accept the franchise tag for the second year in a row, but at $14.5 million a year, he’s underpaid. All NFL players, based on the revenue produced by the league, are underpaid. Forbes Magazine released its list of the 50 most valuable sports franchises on earth and the Steelers come in at No. 31.

The bad news is they dropped from 28th last year. The good news is they gained $225 million in value from $2.225 billion to $2.45 billion. If I’m not mistaken, the Steelers were worth about $350 million before they moved into Heinz Field in 2001. That would mean that they’re worth about seven times that today.

Each team will get $255 million from the NFL’s national TV contracts this year. The players and the NFLPA should focus more on getting a bigger piece of the pie than what they should do during the National Anthem.

  • Now, are you ready for some football? The Steelers should be heavily favored to win the AFC North again and that should put them in contention for another Super Bowl. Mike Tomlin having no losing seasons as a head coach since replacing Bill Cowher in 2007 is greatly underappreciated in these parts. He’s the second best coach in Steelers history and another Super Bowl win could put him in a small group with the best coaches of all time. His 8-7 record in the playoffs is keeping him out of that group right now.
  • Big question for the 2018 season: which number will be larger, the increased number of wins for the Cleveland Browns or the increased number of losses for the Steelers?

John Steigerwald writes a weekly column for the Observer-Reporter. He hosts a radio talks show Monday through Friday on AM 1250.

John Steigerwald writes a weekly column for the Observer-Reporter. He hosts a radio talk show Monday through Friday on AM 1250

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