Emmanuel Sanders had a day full of appearances on ESPN programs on May 1st. It may not be big news, but I think what he said was big. He said what every Steeler fan wants to hear. He survived a grilling from Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s First Take. Smith at times reminded me of the Hollywood version of a prosecutor grilling a witness under oath, looking for the big “I ordered the Code Red” confession.
I listened to the nine-minute-ish debate with Sanders and thought he handled himself fairly well. When asked why last season seemed so bad, he said that there was no single thing and refused to throw anyone under the bus. He also said that there are no excuses and they aren’t looking for any. They are focused on this year; last year has to be behind them. Smith and Skip Bayless, who for once was less aggressive, pushed for blame or admissions and Sanders did say that there were times that they weren’t on the same page. He said, “It’s obvious.” He talked about having a new offensive coordinator and that it took time to get on the same page.
We all know that last year wasn’t just a bad season because the Steelers went 8-8. Some teams would love to be 8-8. It’s the way it happened that upset most fans. The Steelers let games slip away, there were questionable in-game coaching decisions, and they showed a lack of cohesion. To hear Sanders allude to it makes me think that the Steelers players realize it and are trying to fix it. That’s good because it has to, ultimately, come from the players. Yes, Tomlin and staff are responsible to motivate and encourage when they coach and set up plays. If they don’t set up plays that effectively utilize the talent they have, the players will get unfocused. However, the players have to be hungry, they have to want the championship.
Bayless asked Sanders if he is worried about Roethlisberger’s ability to stay healthy and play all 16 games this season. I think that was probably the most valid question asked during the segment. Of course, Sanders said he isn’t worried. The most interesting part of his answer was when he said that Ben needs to be Ben. You can’t change the way he plays because playing his way got him two Superbowl rings. Sanders alluded to the play changes that are designed to get the ball out of Ben’s hands faster and he acknowledged that the coaches are concerned about Roethlisberger’s injury rate. However, he said he’s not concerned.
Sanders also showed up on ESPN’s NFL Live broadcast later in the day and expressed a lot of support for Roethlisberger and reiterated that while he was “sad” to see Mike Wallace leave, he’s happy to get a chance to start. It was pretty funny when they gave him an “acting” award for his “injury” to save a time out this season.
Sanders said all the right things. I really couldn’t take issue with anything he said. However, after watching Sanders and Antonio Brown both do the rounds, I can’t say I am really in favor of these “media days.” I realize the agents set it up, particularly if there looks to be upcoming contract negotiations in the next year or so. Sanders needs to have the sound bites out there where he looks like a “team player.” Team front offices, including the Steelers, might take away a favorable impression from such interviews. It can’t hurt, right? Well, I’m not sure it’s the “Steeler Way.” What is the Steeler Way? Well, in my opinion, the Steeler Way is this:
- Work Hard – Give 110% at EVERYTHING asked of you by the franchise. Reward will come.
- Keep Your Head Down – Don’t make waves. Don’t say anything negative about the Steelers or other Steeler players or coaches. Don’t be controversial.
- Avoid the Spotlight – It’s about playing as a team. Don’t put yourself out in front of the team or seem like you are above the team.
Now, I may be completely wrong about what the Steeler Way is. I also have to acknowledge that times have changed. Social media has given fans and others nearly instant and constant access. It has become about marketing. Well, chalk one up for Sanders. I think his marketing was successful. He was very well coached on what he should say and how he should say it. He stuck to the script when bombarded by Smith. He kept his cool and he shut down some of the bombastic rhetoric. Way to go Sanders. Now, it’s time to live up to it with your on-the-field activity.