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Steelers' Tomlin deals with more than ridiculous comments from the media

New SCI columnist Frank LaGrotta goes after the proverbial 'Elephant In The Room' -- racism and Mike Tomlin -- in his debut column.

Walk in any tavern. Tune in any local sports talk show.

The lyrics may change, but the song remains the same.

“Tomlin doesn’t know how to manage a clock…”

“Tomlin doesn’t his discipline players.”

“Tomlin goin’ for two was stupid.”

Mike Tomlin pretends he doesn’t hear, much less attend to, the criticism. Stone-faced in demeanor and monosyllabic in response, the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach faithfully claims the words don’t bother him at all.

Don’t believe it.

When he lets down his guard, as he did in a 2014 Fox Sports interview when he was asked if he was a “player’s coach,” it’s obvious it DOES bother him; that he interprets comments about his intellect and “buddy-buddy” relationship with his players as a “dog whistle” for -

“Whatta yinz expect? He’s black!”

“You know, it doesn’t bother me because I don’t worry too much about what people define me as. You know, but at the same time it’s something I get tired of addressing or answering over the last eight years because invariably, you know, I think it means something about my age and my race, you know.

“I’ve been doing this job for eight years and I think anybody that I work with will tell you that I mean business and there’s no blurred lines in terms of relationships that I have with guys, in terms of their roles and my roles,. I think sometimes it’s somewhat insulting to be honest with you.”

A telling, instructive window into the mind of a man who is otherwise known for short, staccato “Belichickian” answers to almost any question.

Think about it.

“…means something about…my race…"

"somewhat insulting…”

His words make clear the prism through which he views the Chinese water torture-like criticism that drips-drips-drips on his perfectly coiffed head whenever his Steelers fall short of their sometimes-too-rabid fan base’s always-too-lofty expectations. They also reveal something about the environment in which he is judged.

See, if you know anything about western Pennsylvania - and you’re NOT in a state of denial - you’re aware of the tinge of racism endemic to the culture. Usually - especially in the case of local sports teams - it’s contained, suppressed; reserved for monochromatic gatherings where people who look alike feel free to talk alike.

However, recently - perhaps because of the recent political and cultural changes in the region and the country - it seems that prejudice has resurfaced in a way not seen for several generations.

Tomlin obviously has a notion that some of the criticism he receives - criticism that, for the most part, his predecessors, Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, were not subjected to - has a racist taint.

Is that notion justified? Is criticism of Tomlin, like that leveled at President Obama, exacerbated by prejudice?

No doubt some of it is…probably more than we want to admit.

However, not all of the anti-Tomlin bombast is racially motivated. Some of it’s just downright dumb.

Take Steelers legend and Fox Sports commentator Terry Bradshaw’s recent Tomlin take-down.

“I don’t think he’s a great coach at all,” Bradshaw said on Fox Sports 1’s “Speak For Yourself.” “He’s a nice coach. To me, I’ve said this, he’s really a great cheerleader guy. I don’t know what he does. I don’t think he is a great coach at all. His name never even pops in my mind when we think about great coaches in the NFL.”

What?

“…nice coach…”

“…great cheerleader guy…”

“…(not) a great coach at all.”

Again…(for emphasis)…

WHAT?

What the hell is Bradshaw thinking - if he’s thinking at all?

Tomlin has both the record (102-57) and the ring that requires he automatically be included in any discussion of great coaches in today’s NFL; those not named Belichick, of course, who, needless to say, is in a class by himself.

Of course, Terry Bradshaw is known for saying things that don’t make a whit of sense to anyone NOT named Terry Bradshaw.

However, he is NOT known for making racist statements.

Just dumb ones. And this one ranks among his ding-dang-dumbest.

However, for old time’s sake, lets give Bradshaw a pass on this one. Lets assume his off-the-wall assessment of Tomlin was a lame attempt to get a little attention for his big ego while, at the same time, increase eyeballs for that hour-long gab-fest, “NFL Sunday.”

Lets also give the majority of Steeler nation a pass and figure most of the vitriol directed at Tomlin - after a failed two-point attempt, or a wasted timeout in the third quarter, or when he doesn’t get all up in Antonio Brown’s face after yet another in a too-long string of the receiver’s asinine end zone celebrations - is motivated by an overabundance of spirit, both in the heart and the glass.

None of that changes the fact that some of the venom spewed at Coach Tomlin, just like that directed at President Obama, comes from a place that most of us like to pretend doesn’t exist.

A hateful place.

A place where skin color still matters.

Mike Tomlin obviously believes that.

And that’s sad.

And dumb…

Dumber than anything you’ll ever hear Terry Bradshaw say.

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