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Mark Madden: Steelers antics an embarrassment for fans, franchise

Tribune-Review
| Tuesday, September 18, 2018 7:15 p.m
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Stundd Steelers fans after the Chiefs gain a 21-0 advantage in the first quarter Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018 at Heinz Field.
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver on the sideline in the second half of the Chiefs game Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018 at Heinz Field.
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin speaks to the media during his weekly news conference Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

What a big-time sports franchise owes its supporters is debatable.

But, at the very least, it seems a team’s fans seldom should feel embarrassed. They deserve that, anyway.

Lately, the Steelers disappoint in that regard far too often. The players all should get out of the same car at the 50-yard line before games. A franchise founded on quiet dignity by a distinguished ownership family has become a clown act.

It’s the result of a small, toxic group of players. But the rest are guilty by association and because they won’t do anything about it.

That goes double for the so-called veteran leaders, who might be veterans but definitely do not lead.

That goes triple for coach Mike Tomlin, who long ago went past tolerating to enabling.

It applies to Art Rooney II. He’s a competent owner and good man, but he’s not his father. He doesn’t have the cachet or control.

It applies to a too-large percentage of the fans, those who seem beyond embarrassment and just want Antonio Brown to pile up fantasy football stats on their behalf even as he serves the Pizza Hut logo better than he does the Steelers.

Let’s look at the week that was:

• Brown blew up at offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner on the sideline during Sunday’s home loss to Kansas City, likely because he wasn’t getting his stats while JuJu Smith-Schuster and Jesse James were.

There’s a theory Brown was upset because the play calls got in too slow. That would be ironic coming from somebody who was several hours late when he visited sick kids at Children’s Hospital.

On Monday, Brown had Twitter beef with an ex-Steelers employee and dared the team to trade him. He didn’t show up for meetings.

Brown sycophants say he’s just a fiery competitor. That’s nonsense. Brown is just a jerk. A “big baby,” as Ben Roethlisberger appeared to call Brown at one point Sunday. (Maybe. I’m no expert lip-reader.)

• Bud Dupree also had Twitter drama, sliding into a critic’s DMs to say he was in bed with the critic’s woman during Sunday’s loss. Forget about lack of class. Why would Dupree bother? It’s not fourth-grade recess.

• A video surfaced of holdout running back Le’Veon Bell jet-skiing. If you want to maximize free agency by way of avoiding bodily harm inflicted via 400 touches, the risk of high-speed water sports tends to unravel your credibility.

That all happened in two days. Last year, the turmoil was nonstop. Instead of playing “Renegade” as their battle theme at home games, the Steelers should try “Yakety Sax.”

How much does such constant conflict keep the Steelers from winning?

Well, despite having a future Hall of Fame quarterback with two Super Bowl rings mostly doing his part, the Steelers have won three playoff games in eight years. So, you tell me.

Tomlin supporters cite his regular-season record. When did Pittsburgh become a regular-season town?

Injuries at key times are blamed. Excuses, excuses.

Certainly, the Steelers’ underachieving can’t tangibly be linked to the poisonous environment.

But perhaps it’s a good idea to try it the other way. Minimum distraction. Maximum discipline and focus.

Of course, it’s far too late for that.

A culture adjustment requires far more changes than the Steelers are willing to make. Their best option, sadly, is to continue to rely on star power and hope common sense and professionalism finally show up. Perhaps Brown will stop throwing the rattle out of the crib and ditch social media. (No way.) Or maybe talent can overwhelm stupidity. (It sometimes does.)

This is mostly about Brown and Bell. The Toxic Twins. Barnum and Bailey. One ditched work Monday, the other skipped the walk-through before last season’s playoff loss to Jacksonville. How can a coach tolerate that? But Tomlin does.

When Brown and Bell became two of the Steelers’ focal points, it didn’t take long to realize teams don’t win Super Bowls with men like that. The closest these Steelers have come is a 19-point loss in an AFC Championship Game.

Brown and Bell are there for themselves and for money. Not the Steelers, not their teammates, not the fans. It’s about their brand.

They’re exemplary of many modern athletes, sure. But their selfishness is at a revolutionary level.

Brown is a nonstop whirlwind of disturbance.

I understand Bell’s reasons for no-showing, and he has every right. But he made the Steelers’ season a mess before it started.

On my radio program, I mooted several steps to a cure:

• Deactivate Brown for a game. But that would make the situation worse, if that’s possible.

• The Steelers ban players from social media. But apparently that’s some kind of human-rights violation.

• Tomlin or one of the team’s leaders — say, Roethlisberger or Cameron Heyward — puts his face about six inches from Brown’s and tells him loudly and forcefully to wise the (expletive) up. If Brown takes a hike, so be it. (Maybe he already has.)

But nobody will do that. It’s like they’re scared of Brown. Or maybe they’ve stopped caring.

Or maybe Tomlin never did. Issues like this simply don’t matter to him. You can think and act as you want when you have absolute job security.

It doesn’t matter to me, either. It’s subject material, nothing more.

The teams I support almost never embarrass me. When they do, they fix it.

Maybe that’s not important to you. But it’s important to me.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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