The Pittsburg Steelers made headlines this weekend when the entire team — with the exception of left tackle Alejandro Villanueva — chose to stay off the field during the National Anthem. The action was in response to Trump’s statement that NFL players who kneel during the Anthem should be fired. In response, a flag football team from Staten Island named the Steelers has decided to change its name after five seasons after players and parents voiced their strong disagreement with the NFL team’s protest. To really make their feelings clear, the team plans to have a ceremony before their next game where they will lay down their old Steelers jerseys at the 50-yard line.
The team formerly known as the Steelers are a part of the 9-11 Memorial Flag Football League, which is a league for seventh and eighth graders. Coach Lou Gelormino said the team unanimously made the decision to change the name after Pittsburgh’s game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. He stated that “we respect everyone’s right to protest (in an appropriate way) and now we ask that everyone respect our right to protest also.”
Gelormino said that the team felt the Anthem should be a time for unity, not division. He also noted that “half of the kids” on the team have parents who are cops or firemen. The team is from Staten Island, an area which overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump in the election and has long been a Republican stronghold in New York City.
This is not the first time the Pittsburgh Steelers have stirred up controversy for their conduct, both on and off the field. They are widely considered the team that first encouraged players to use steroids back in the ’70s and ’80s. In fact, Richard Rydze, the Steelers’ team doctor from 1985 to 2007, was indicted in 2012 for purchasing and illegally prescribing performance-enhancing drugs, including anabolic steroids, human growth hormones, and painkillers. Coach Mike Tomlin has been accused of intentionally trying to trip an opposing player to stop a touchdown. Not to mention Ben Roethlisberger’s dark history with sexual assault. But, for whatever reason, this Staten Island flag football team had no issue with the team name until they exercised their right to nonviolent protest.
After five seasons of being the Steelers, the team will not be choosing another NFL team name as a replacement. Instead, they will be named after the United States Military Academy or West Point. The team has also shared that players’ parents are planning to donate $1,000 to The Wounded Veterans Fund as they are hopeful the donation will help “something positive to come out of all this.”