Polamalu praises 'Gasland' on Facebook, sets off fractious debate

Opinions fly after Steelers star suggests watching documentary on gas drilling


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Troy Polamalu learned last month that there are topics even more controversial than the defense's performance in Sunday night's playoff game against the Denver Broncos.

The Steelers strong safety maintains a popular Twitter and Facebook account that sends out movie recommendations every week, in between ticket raffle contests and aphorisms such as, "The greatest oak was once a little nut who held its ground."

His movie pick in mid-December: "Gasland," a popular anti-drilling documentary that's fueled the "fracktivist" movement against gas development and the fracking technique used in the Marcellus Shale region.

The post -- whether just an another example of Mr. Polamalu's taste for controversial documentaries or an outright political statement -- thrust the popular Pittsburgher into one of the most fractious debates to hit the region in a while.

The Polamalu Facebook page was suddenly home to a face-off over fracking, with one fan in Fort Worth, Texas, calling the film "left wing trash" that he was disappointed to see coming with a Steelers seal of approval. Yet another thanked him, saying Mr. Polamalu's "fame and clout" was helpful in spreading the "Gasland" gospel to the Steelers Nation.

Soon the gas debate talking points followed, over whether the jobs were worth the environmental risk or whether national security relied on gas exploration. It's probably the first time a Steeler has inspired talk of OPEC.

Mr. Polamalu is hardly the first celebrity to endorse "Gasland" or its director, Josh Fox. He joins Mark Ruffalo, Fran Drescher, Debra Winger and Scarlett Johansson in the roster of stars who've commented on gas drilling. Mr. Polamalu has offered no follow-up comment, and he and other Steelers had no media availability Monday.

Mr. Fox was still quick to seize the moment, tweeting back to Mr. Polamalu, "THANKS! Let's save PA's water! Go Steelers!"

He also called the Steelers "#1 in Fracktivist Defense."

The industry, meanwhile, was quick to contest the film's accuracy without dissing its well-liked endorser. EnergyInDepth, a pro-industry lobbying firm, tweeted to Mr. Polamalu, saying it has "separated claims" from the facts in "Gasland" -- and, by the way, congratulations on his Pro Bowl selection.

Mr. Polamalu's recent movie recommendations show an appreciation for controversial documentaries, such as the "Waiting for Superman" film that calls for public school reform and the "Food Inc." feature that criticizes corporate farming.

Some of his suggestions are less fraught with controversy, such as "Pulling John," which is about aging professional arm wrestling champion John Brzenk.

It's been a busy month for eco-conscious Steelers. Former running back Jerome Bettis recently starred in a series of commercials for the Environmental Protection Agency, advocating for new pollution regulations on power plants.

"Even the hardest-hitting players in the National Football League can't knock the wind out of me like asthma can," Mr. Bettis says in the spot.

The EPA standards were released in late December, the same week Mr. Polamalu recommended "Vanishing of the Bees," a documentary that suggests a link between certain pesticides and the sudden disappearance of honeybees around the world.


Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455. First Published January 10, 2012 5:00 AM


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