Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin let the press know today that neither Le’Veon Bell nor LeGarrette Blount would miss the team’s opening game versus the Browns.
Mike Tomlin says If Steelers discipline Bell and Bount they will do so internally, not make it known. Aka, no Steelers imposed suspension
— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) August 25, 2014
Following this decision, the question must be asked whether or not this is the correct decision. Ed Bouchette of Pittsburgh’s Post-Gazette wrote an informative piece regarding why the Steelers are handcuffed by the league’s current CBA (collective bargaining agreement), but this should not deter the Steelers from making a statement.
To be clear, I believe the usage of marijuana should be under debate and disciplining players for using it should be likewise. But in this case, there’s more to the situation than simply marijuana usage, even though players should respect the current rules whether they agree with them or not. First off Bell was additionally charged with a DUI, a much more serious offense regardless of how impaired he was. Also this incident occurred while the players were on their way to a team flight, as pointed out by Nice Pick Cowher’s Kim Myers (near the bottom of the article). It’s incredible irresponsible, and quite frankly ignorant, to behave in such a way hours, if not minutes, before boarding a flight with your co-workers and employers. Finally, with regards to Blount, it should be taken into consideration that he, a fifth-year veteran, should be mentoring the young Bell rather than engaging in this type of behavior. This isn’t necessarily a good reason to suspend Blount specifically, but a statement should be made to both players.
By doing nothing the Steelers have essentially told their running backs that they will largely accept their actions, despite Tomlin’s assertion that disciplinary actions will be done so internally. Obviously any consequence the Steelers hand down would be challenged by the Players Association, but it’s the action that counts on the Steelers end, not so much if the penalty is allowed to be applied; better to have the NFLPA be the party that allows Bell and Blount to behave in such a manner rather than the Steelers as their employer. Based on his history, Bell is not a troubled individual, so expecting him to spiral out-of-control would be dramatic, but doing nothing is frankly irresponsible and casts a dark shadow over the team and its expectations of him. Blount on the other hand has had some issues, though they were on-the-field fighting incidents, so it’s unfair to label him as a troubled individual off-the-field. Nonetheless Blount, whether suspended or not, should hold himself to a higher standard than his young teammate, and so should the Steelers. By doing nothing, the team has consequently opened the door to potentially future team-damaging behavior and irresponsible actions, such as DUI offenses.
The NFL’s response to such behavior is alarming as they often hand down near meaningless discipline. It’s disappointing as the NFL is the type of organization that can really make a statement to the public by advocating for good values. It’s popularity is largely unmatched, so its influence within the public is unique. Hopefully down the line the NFL makes better decisions regarding these types of incidents. As for the Steelers, they should be careful walking this type of line. The Bengals dealt with these types of situations poorly in the past and it can lead to a long and ugly road that takes years to come back from. As a Bengal fan, I can only say it’s nice to see that while the rest of the AFC North seems to be going in the wrong direction, regarding behavior, the Bengals are heading the opposite way and really mending, what was once, broken organizational values.