How many times during the course of a football game does a receiver who knows full well he has not caught a pass, attempt to act as though he has?
How often during a baseball season does an outfielder who failed to make a catch pretend that he has in an attempt to trick the umpire into calling a hit an out?
The answer to both questions is: Plenty of times.
But such acts of dishonesty, and there are many more of a similar nature in almost all team sports, rarely gain the ire of fans, even those with a high moral compass.
That is one of the reasons I was taken aback by the ferocious negative responses against Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who, at worse, intentionally tried to gain a competitive advantage by violating the rules and forcing an opposing player to ever-so-slightly change direction.
Tomlin was trying to affect the outcome of the game with chicanery. That’s not much different than, say, Antonio Brown attempting to gain a competitive advantage by pretending to catch a pass that he didn’t.
This is no attempt to suggest attempting to con the referee/umpire is the same as a coach stepping on the field to affect the outcome of the game. But the situations are similar. And since Tomlin has not been found guilty of deliberately cheating -- it could have been an honest mistake -- the reaction is over the top.
I am condoning neither act. It pains me to see attempted cheating flourish in all levels of sports. Athletic competition once was supposed to teach honor. Now it encourages dishonor.
And no one complains. No one even thinks twice about it.
Until Mike Tomlin took it, perhaps, a step further, but, still, not a whole lot differently.
And, please, stop with the "he’s a coach.’’ If he were a high school coach, that might apply. He’s an NFL coach. All’s fair in love, war -- and the NFL.
Obviously, readers thought otherwise. The piling on of Tomlin took me by surprise. I actually thought there would be more support for his actions.
But few saw it in such a light. Below are a sampling of some of the strong opinions from yesterday’s commentary, which focused on Tomlin facing NFL punishment for stepping in the field in a move that may or may not have been an attempt to interfere with Baltimore Ravens kick returner Jacoby Jones, who looked to be heading for a touchdown.
“Tomlin's actions are completely disrespectful to the Rooney family, the players, the city, and the fans everywhere.”
“Just another example of Tomlin 's poor leadership.”
“Tomlin’s antics should not be tolerated even at the "pee-wee" level of football. It sets a poor example of sportsmanship, and a glaring disrespect for the rules of the game.”
“Tomlin's an idiot.”
“This man is Embarrassing one of the Storied Franchises in Sports, with all Bill Cowher’s Players gone, producing Losing Seasons, and now this?”
“Here's two ideas - the Rooney's fire him THUS allowing him to watch all the games he wants from the comfort of his home with DirecTV's NFL Ticket! Tomlin has sufficiently ruined the Steelers with inept drafts, poor player development and now embarrassed them on national TV...and all he could do was smirk about it? . . . The Steelers Nation can ONLY hope that Tomlin gets his walking papers - but knowing the Rooney's, they'll stick with this overrated buffoon.”
“What do you expect from a Rooney Rule hire?”
“Tomlin cheated and then lied about cheating. He showed no integrity and no respect for the game. He should be fined $100k AND suspended for one game and a one game paycheck.”
“But maybe he can "blow away" the NFL during his appeal interview like he did the Rooneys with his sweet, sweet, gobbledegook, double talk.”
Tomlin has been an excellent coach for the Steelers. In his first four years, his teams went to two Super Bowls and won one of them. He also has had three 12-win seasons. He’s never had a losing season. In many places, such a record would make him a revered figure.
That has not happened in Pittsburgh and that was true before the team was 8-8 last year. I have no doubt a small portion of the backlash against him is because he is a black man in a role that traditionally has gone to a white man in Pittsburgh. Some people can’t deal with that changing of the guard.
I am befuddled beyond words that people don’t like the way he talks. I happen to love the way he talks. It is refreshing and spontaneous.
Some foolishly believe, like the final commenter above, that Tomlin’s way with words, not his football savvy, won him the Steelers job. That is beyond ridiculous. Dan Rooney would never turn his beloved franchise over to a coach based on how well he talks. Tomlin is coach of the Steelers because he impressed the Rooneys with his football knowledge, his leadership capabilities and his intellect. To think otherwise is a grand disrespect of Dan Rooney.
What Tomlin did in Baltimore Thursday night was wrong. So is some of the vicious backlash against him.