Tomlin: Steelers will support players if they opt to kneel

Tomlin: Steelers will support players if they opt to kneel
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin holds weekly news conference (12/31/19)

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wants his players to feel comfortable speaking out about social justice in any way they see fit, provided it’s done “thoughtfully and with class.”

Kneeling included.

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Tomlin said Tuesday the club has engaged in “intimate discussions” with players about how to use their public platform to help effect social change amid the fallout from the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while being taken into police custody in Minneapolis last month.

“Our position is simple,” Tomlin said. “We are going to support our players and their willingness to partake in this, whether it is statements or actions. You guys know my feelings, I have stated them in the past. Statements are good, but impact is better. Particularly long-term impact.”

The Steelers are going to leave it up to the players to let them determine how best to make that impact, though the team has created what Tomlin described as “structural committees” designed to help them organize their actions so they can “do things properly.”

Tomlin’s tone was a marked departure from his sense of frustration in 2017, when a miscommunication during the national anthem before a game against the Chicago Bears left offensive tackle and Army veteran Alejandro Villaneuva standing alone on the field saluting the flag while the rest of the team remained out of sight in a tunnel.

Tomlin stressed in the aftermath that his focus was on football and that figuring out what served as an appropriate form of protest was for “political beatniks to ponder.”

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The league’s third-longest tenured head coach said his issue three years ago was timing. The chaos in Chicago happened during the regular season. Floyd’s death, coming during a relatively quiet period for the NFL, “allowed us to really unearth some discussions and take our time,” according to Tomlin.

All-Pro defensive end Cam Heyward said last week the Steelers would be united in any form of protest they may choose to adopt in 2020.

Tomlin has long pointed toward his team’s work off the field — particularly on Tuesdays in the fall, when the players are typically off and doing charity work in the Pittsburgh area — as proof it is not just interested in making statements on Sunday afternoons. He doesn’t anticipate that changing.

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