Earlier this month, the news feeds were all abuzz about the anonymous teammate bashing LaMarr Woodley being out of shape during the season. Ryan Clark came to Woodley’s defense by going on air on the NFL Network’s NFL AM and saying, “That shows that this team that is normally close, you had the Joey Porters, the Alan Fanecas, just down the line, leader after leader, this team was close-knit. It shows there is a fracture in that. I think that is the most disappointing thing about that coming out.” Nice that he came out in defense of his teammate, but not so nice that he came out publically to say there is a fracture in the locker room. Not that we were all that surprised to hear that there was one in a team so used to winning, but I for one just didn’t need to hear anyone say it out loud. Don’t talk about it: do something about it instead, is my motto. I agree with Hines Ward, who went on the same show on a different say and was quoted as saying, “That is not the Steeler way. We’ve always had a rule: We are a band of brothers. We’ve always collectively kept everything in house. … But there was no finger-pointing and calling each other out.”
Rumors about Steelers and their coaches that tend to pop up whenever the team fails to make the playoffs I’ve noticed. I’ve seen it before. I remember being in town to collect my mother to bring her down to Texas for the holidays in 1998 as the season wound down with a home loss to the Bengals. It was a down period for the team and the press was most unkind. It was around that time that wild rumors were flying about Bill Cowher having an affair with an assistant and getting her pregnant. About that same time, the press and fan base was turning on Kordell Stewart with rumors of his being gay. To the best of my knowledge, neither were ever verified and while Kordell eventually left town to end his career in relative obscurity, Coach Cowher prevailed and survived the down times to bring us a fifth title. Now he is revered here, which he should be, and those who proffered those rumors would likely never admit to it now. They pop up from time to time when Ravens fans and others want to remind us we are not as sanctimonious as we would like to believe. But, those were all rumors and gossip, as best as I can tell, by a restless fan base and not the team itself. This year, after the team failed to live up to the high expectations we all set for them as well as those that they set for themselves, they seem to be attacking themselves internally, not waiting for the local press to make up stories. All they need to do this go-round is sit back and report it.
The internal rifts disappointed me, but I was not that surprised. Adding together the average age of a national football player (according to Business Week, it is 27), their access to social media, people’s general interest in them and the inordinate amount of attention paid to them, it should not seem surprising at all. I can imagine there every conversation begins with, “What happened to you guys this year…?” After a while, the pressure’s just too great on a young man to try and answer the question in such a way that places no blame on the speaker. Not to mention which, office gossip (which, if you think about it, is what this is) is present in every business on the planet.
Psychology Today’s website ran an interesting article on office gossip that said this, “If you want to gauge the health of an organization, tap into its grapevine, taste a sample or two, and test the toxicity. Companies that think they need to eradicate the rumor mill to clean up the culture have got it the wrong way around. Gossip is inevitable and blameless–the problem lies instead in its content, which reflects precisely what is going on in people’s minds.” Based on that, one could say that the Steelers organization is in some trouble. But consider that they have been through down years before, weathered far worse rumors and accusations than whether some players weren’t well conditioned and come out the other side. All it will take is a winning season and all of this will be forgotten.