For Pittsburgh Steelers fans, the feeling is fading

We're eking by in postmodern America, where everything's commodified, transactional, and blasphemed — even our formerly sacred sports teams.  Here in Pittsburgh, that, of course, is the Steelers.

Many of us in PoMo Pittsburgh have lost our mooring on the Steelers, which is supposedly good but sometimes feels like losing family.

In this great city of industry, pity the old Sportsfan Joes, because things aren't what they used to be.

It's a different era from football's, and the Steelers', golden age. 

Instead of football glory, it's a crass time of team owners bullying cities for cash to build or improve stadiums.  Just that alone's driven fans away.  One can maybe pity, or else celebrate, those fans who've broken free of their sports jones.

Unless you were living around Pittsburgh in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Steelers won Super Bowls, raising spirits of the populace amid the depopulation of towns and the losses of jobs, family, businesses, opportunities, and a devaluing of homes so bad that people abandoned them and moved, you might not get the loss that some former Steelers fans feel now that they've begun swearing off their favorite team.

Or maybe if you're from Detroit, or New York, or another old sports town, you do get it.

The attachment many Steelers fans developed for the team solidified in that 1970s and 1980s, which many of us lived through and remember.  Those were dark days, so those rather improbable 1970s Super Bowl wins were like manna from heaven.

Western Pennsylvanians needed a break, and the Steelers gave us one.  We'd found a new false faith, based partly on a lie named the Immaculate Reception.

That strong local fan attachment represented a shared heritage of miles traveled together and losses endured, and an unspoken mutual commitment among Steelers fans, players, and the team owners.  This relationship — and the diaspora of Pittsburghers after deindustrialization in the "Rust Belt" — engendered a Steelers fan following nationally and internationally.

That's largely how the Steelers brand was built — on the hopes of unemployed and underemployed western Pennsylvanians, many of whom were wondering how they'd manage to stay in a region where job opportunities had drastically shrunk.  The Steelers were branded as having a mystique akin to the resilience and fortitude of blue-collar Pittsburghers who kept the region strong after Big Steel imploded from being dumb, fat, and happy for too long...but it was just a brand.

To many fans, the Steelers have become a rather crass brand now, whose ownership doesn't blush at picking taxpayers' pockets to make billions while pampering whiney multimillionaire players in a town where the median household income is $50,000.  Longtime fans know this stuff and look the other way to retain their Steelers faith.  Many, though, have quit following the team.

I quit many years ago, around when QB Ben Roethlisberger was accused of rape.  But I'd stopped watching the team religiously years before because fandom had no positive bearing on my daily life, which got tough as a freelance writer many years back.  Plus, I was sick of the emotional ups and downs accompanying Steelers fandom, because on a Monday in Pittsburgh after a Steelers loss, you will notice that many people are in a bad mood because of it.

Over the years of my life, I've seen the Steel City become poorer, with lower wages and lower standards of living and lower expectations and fewer opportunities for many people, and families dispersed, while the Steelers got richer partly on the public's dime (to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars).  Also, I and many other former sports fans believe you should resist bullies, and we dislike our (formerly) beloved team's owners threatening to move away.

It was weird chatting with another former Steelers fan recently for stories I was working on that were about pro sports.

Not knowing that my contact was originally from Steelers Country, I tried to explain how I felt as a typical Pittsburgh native who grew up loving the Steelers, seeing what they'd become.

"You don't understand.  It's not like the Steelers were sacred, but to a lot of us, they represented something pure and good.  Now they don't," I said.

"I do understand, and I know how you feel," my contact surprised me by saying.  "I grew up in [name of a Pittsburgh neighborhood]."

Before our conversation ended, my contact said, "Good luck with your vendetta."

I expressed surprise at him using the word "vendetta," but he said he meant he wished the best of luck to me.

Maybe the final "right-sizing" of American industry is the tattered historical bonds like the Steelers fans/team relationship, and the cutting of ties with some of those locals who empowered the legacies.

In postmodern, or PoMo, America, a growing iconoclasm is destroying the one remaining shibboleth, pro sports, and it's a good thing.  This wave of pro sports–deniers could mean America is on the mend.

Jonathan Barnes is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh.

Image: Wikipedia, public domain.

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