OTAs otherwise known as organized team activities. NFL teams have these let’s get acquainted events to start the competitive engines in low gear.
During the last several days the Steelers have been holding OTAs over at the south side. One of the purposes, if not the prime purpose of the get-together is to work out the body, the mind and to rekindle the “fireplace” of competition. The “field general” of the Steelers, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, will not be in attendance, at least at this current session of organized team activities. Okay, so these activities are voluntary and he doesn’t have to be there. But make no mistake, his being there in the war room, making the rounds, shaking the hands of his soldiers and giving them a pre-minicamp, pre-training camp, preseason pat on the back, could be nothing but a positive for the team.
Organized team activities are great for the team, if not that good for the individual. Last year, the All-Pro safety for the Steelers, Troy Polamalu, skipped the OTAs to allegedly work out on his own. However, Polamalu missed a slew of games and was more of a cheerleader than a competitor for the 2009 season. From 2006-2009, the star safety has missed 19 games, while competing in 45. That means in four seasons he has missed three games more than the equivalent of a 16-game season. During the 19 games that he missed I am reasonably sure that his injuries were legitimate. There was also a void left in the Steelers defensive backfield that was difficult, if not impossible, to fill as a result of his absence.
But in the same token, during his absence from the field of play, did his trademark mane fly around just as vigorously off the gridiron when he made numerous trips to the local ATM? He continued to collect a paycheck even though the Steelers defensive backfield was infected and affected by his absence. Oh, everyone says that Polamalu is injured more frequently because of his tenacity and reckless style of play. I agree with that assessment of his performances but someone has to pull him aside and whisper in his ear that if making one play causes him to forego the remainder of the season that it is okay to allow a few of his DB mates to pull their weight and make a few plays, too. It is impossible to be a prima donna from the sidelines. The 2009 season should be a lesson for Pittsburgh. Depth, depth, and more depth at every position is the only way that the Pittsburgh franchise will restore and maintain the winning tradition to which they are accustomed. There had better be a few players on the sideline that are able to put their fingers in “the dikes of injuries” if the Steelers are going to exit the funk of the 2009 season.
Injuries combined with personal improprieties will oftentimes be the death knell for the cohesive sprit and the competitive fire of any team, in any sport. If one or a selected group of players on any team is perceived to be of considerably more value than the remainder of their peers on that team, that is where the chasm of division often begins. When players who are well paid and sometimes overpaid perform and are allowed to perform under different standards than their colleagues, the dividing line can become a demilitarized zone in the clubhouse or locker room. How can overpriced and overpaid athletes be allowed to attend to every minor scrape and wound as if it is life threatening by being allotted all of the recuperation time that they need while all others are expected to suit up and perform, regardless of the circumstances?
Also, when negative behavior of certain athletes is tolerated more by some than others because of their value, then that too can be a morale killer.
Take the case of another Pittsburgh star player, wide receiver Santonio Holmes. According to espy.com news services, “Holmes, who is facing a civil lawsuit in Florida in which a woman accuses him of throwing a drink at her, says he didn’t do anything and expects the matter to be dealt with quickly.” “[Holmes] proceeded to inform the plaintiff that he was an NFL football player and that he could not face criminal charges. Subsequently, [Holmes] offered to give the plaintiff money because he was an NFL star and could not get into trouble,” the complaint alleges, according to the report. I don’t care who you are, whether you are charged with an offense or not. No one has the right to throw a drink in anyone’s face, period.
That is one of the things that concerns me. Some of these fellows think that money can cure all ills. Well ya big dummies, if that was so all the people with loot would be disease free and only us “po” folks would be destined to end up on the slab of the local undertaker. However in many cases, instead of wealth being a facilitatory of healing, newfound wealth can cause normal personalities to become distorted and perverted. Egos may become super-inflated, causing irreparable damage to an individual and all those around him in his public or private life. When athletes glance around the locker room as they work hard during the beginning phases of the upcoming campaign, there should not be question marks as to who may be attending and who isn’t. During a war, the soldier who volunteers puts the welfare of his fellow soldier on him. With any voluntary team workouts, coming together on your own to be with your teammates may speak volumes about who you are as an athlete and a person.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-378-9834.)