The Pittsburgh Steelers could be without star running back Le’Veon Bell for the first four weeks of the season and they are without #2 wide receiver Martavis Bryant for the full year. Bryant emerged as one of the most physically gifted receivers in recent years, but his career will be placed on hold during his suspension.
This comes on the heels of the since-redacted Al Jazeera report, which the league is using as reason to investigate Steelers linebacker James Harrison. One NFL team executive thinks the league response would be very different if these Steelers were members of the Patriots.
"If what's happening in Pittsburgh was happening in New England, there would be multiple league investigations," an anonymous NFC East team executive told Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman. "But because the Steelers are so liked by the media and league, they get a pass."
Freeman adds that this “is not a lone sentiment across the NFL.”
First, I’d like to say that this NFC East executive is probably smoking the same stuff as Bell and Bryant because this claim is without foundation. Bell, Bryant, and LeGarrette Blount are the only Steelers to receive suspensions for violating the substance policies over the past five seasons.
Sure, Bryant has been caught twice and Bell is on his way to a second, but that doesn’t show a systematic issue in Pittsburgh. It’s far more revealing about the character of Bell and Bryant than anything else.
The NFC East executive should look in a mirror because Washington (14, 1st), the Giants (9, t-3rd), and the Cowboys (7, t-10th) all rank in the top ten for most substance abuse suspensions over the past five seasons.
The Patriots have just two substance abuse suspensions over the past five years, which ties for the 2nd fewest in the league over the past five years. Running back Brandon Bolden and edge defender Jermaine Cunningham were both suspended in 2012.
The Patriots have also signed cornerback Brandon Browner, running back LeGarrette Blount, and wide receiver Brian Tyms knowing that the players had pending suspensions, which do not factor into these figures. Edge defender Chandler Jones had an interaction with the police after using synthetic marijuana, but that is not against league policies.
Shout out to the Texans with just one substance abuse suspension over the past five years, and it was a punter that was caught.
So while the executive is trying to make a point that the Steelers are getting “a pass” for their bad behavior, I don’t think there’s much weight behind the claim. My guess is the executive comes from cross-state rival Philadelphia as they are the only NFC East team with fewer recent suspensions than the Steelers- although I could also see it coming from the Cowboys because they have been destroyed by bad press over the past two years.
I think it’s important to share a quote from former Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who is qualified to speak on the culture in Pittsburgh.
"I know guys on my team who smoke," Clark said via ESPN. "And it's not a situation where you think, 'Oh, these are guys trying to be cool, these are guys who want to do it recreationally.’
"A lot of it is stress relief. A lot of it is pain and medication. Guys feel like, 'If I can do this, it keeps me away from maybe Vicodin, it keeps me away from pain prescription drugs and things that guys get addicted to.' Guys look at this as a more natural way to heal themselves, to stress relieve and also to medicate themselves for pain. Guys are still going to do it."
I don’t think Bell and Bryant fall into this category, but it shows the importance for the league to continue to develop their stance on marijuana usage.