The Steelers Are Matching Message and Effort Toward Change

Steelers veterans Cam Heyward and Vince Williams spent nearly 20 minutes discussing the team's role in change in the community.
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PITTSBURGH -- Cameron Heyward and Vince Williams scheduled an impromptu Zoom interview on Saturday morning. The morning following Mike Tomlin's message before Friday's practice, the two defensive veterans wanted to assure media the chance to hear every detail behind their coach's words. 

"We can't be blind with what is going on," Heyward said. "We have seen too many injustices to be silent. Our community is hurt day in and day out. We are left with the question, why. As we are held accountable on the field, we want to be accountable off the field. We feel others should be as well.

"We didn't want to just give a statement. Statements do a lot, but not enough. Going forward we want to have action behind that. Through our organization we are going to have a lot of change going forward. We want something attainable that is going to be long lasting, constant and provides a better way for our children.

"When we see these injustices happen, we see ourselves, our children, our fathers, our sons, our friends, being shot and killed. For us to stay idling by and not make a difference, that is a responsibility we can't give up.

"We all have children. What we are looking at right now is not going to get it done for our children in the future. We have had Mason and Dino (Coach Mike Tomlin's sons) come over (to practice) many times and to know that they're growing up in a world where they are not accepted, is unacceptable. My children, Vince's children are going to have to see this play out, and the fact that it's getting played out repeatedly, and it's becoming a theme, and something that is so natural, is something that is unacceptable to me."

The message rang loud and clear. Heyward and Williams addressed the team's actions towards change, locker room atmosphere throughout the team, and the concerns the two men have for themselves and their children. 

"Sometimes people say sports should stay out of politics, politics should stay out of sports," Williams said. "If you look back in history, that has never been the case. I am encouraged by that. Me being able to talk to people about it and have conversations is going to help. If they are going to listen to me because I am a football player, I am encouraged by that.

"We've always talked about everything. Mr. (Art) Rooney has developed a culture in this building that we can talk about anything and everything with anybody in our building, from the top to the bottom. If I am having a problem in my life, or if I am having a situation that confuses me, I can talk to Mr. Rooney about it directly because he is in the building with me every single day. We have casual conversations with anybody in our building. It doesn't matter their race, creed or religion. Anybody that puts their hand in the pile and is a Steeler, we have open dialogue and treat them like they are part of the family. We are never really put in situations where we feel like we have to go out and make these bold public stances, we are encouraged to do whatever we can to help our community.

"I can go ask anybody in the Steelers family what I need to do to get that done, and they are going to help me out. I think now that we are seeing the need, and the people in the community want to hear from us, we're here and we're going to speak."

Heyward said the team began talking over the offseason about ways they can impact change. Many members of the locker room have started by working on voter registration, voter suppression, community and police forums, police culture and education investment. 

"We understand the police relationships," Williams said. "We are not an organization to just make brash or bold statements. We are encouraged to go out in our communities and take things on as a personal approach. That is what we do. That is what we like to focus on. We have to be more diligent. That is what we are going to focus on."

Heyward's message reiterated his and Williams' children a number of times. How the two men look to create change rather than preach it. 

A philosophy Tomlin has conveyed for years. 

"I look my child in the eyes and say I am fighting for your future when I see this stuff happen," Heyward said. "I am happy to see the different people speak and see the resources we have that are different than the 1960s and we can reach different people. I just hope there is more change to come of that."

The shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has sparked another wave of protests throughout sports. Much of the NFL has spoken out against police brutality and racism in America. 

The Steelers are focusing on pushing change for the better when it comes to police and the black community. Williams said the team's focus is on changing the police's image while creating a more comfortable relationship between the community and law enforcement.

"We understand we get to meet the good cops, but there are cops not being held accountable, simple as that," Heyward said, following Williams. "We had an opportunity to strengthen that and to strengthen that when we say, the good cops stay in place but the bad cops don't get to keep policing us. Those are things we can do."

A process the team understands will take time. Their attention on the field has not faltered. Their attention towards change is equally as strong, though.  

"We understand the job is not done," Heyward said. "We have a job to do and we want to make sure we take advantage of that."

More From Heyward and Williams:

How Media Can Spread Message: "You guys hold a lot of power. You never know who’s watching. We get to see all the camera functions and the video cameras on everybody’s phone be parts of history, but we just ask that when we do make this change that it’s written down, that it’s covered. Vince and I come from different communities, but we are going to make a change. We just asked that it’s reported because we want to provide an outlook where we are optimistic about our future, where children see that they can be the next Vince Williams, they can be the next Cam Heyward, or they can be a doctor or a police officer, but to do that, we are really going to have to see positive changes."

Social Justice Committees Steelers Are a Part of: "I’ve been involved in the police forums and community," Heyward said. "There’s some policies that are overdue for change in our community whether it’s Act 111 that needs to be reformed, along with that, banning chokeholds which has already been passed by the Senate but is waiting to be passed in the House Judiciary Committee, demilitarizing the police, making it a charge for false reporting based on race and independent citizen law enforcement review board which ties directly into Act 111. Those are things we can do whether it’s lobbying or speaking with different communities’ leaders to make that change."

How Can Steelers Strengthen Policing in Pittsburgh: "This actually started, we actually met three years ago with Police Chief [Scott] Schubert," Williams said. "We wanted to get our opinion and just try to change the perception of police in our community because we understand the police relations with the community in Pittsburgh. These are things that we are doing. We’re just not an organization to make brash or bold statements. We are encouraged to actually go out into our communities and to take things on as a personal approach to them, and I think that’s what we really do since we get an opportunity to do that. I think that’s what we like to focus on. I think we have been getting it done, but we just have to be more diligent about it. We have to apply more pressure. We have to be better about it, and I think that’s what we’re going to focus on. That’s what you’re going to see our attention focused on as we move forward with this."

Noah Strackbein is a Publisher with AllSteelers. Follow Noah on Twitter @NoahStrack, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.