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Pro athletes fumbling away fans' good will

June 24, 2007|by TIM SHEA

The Pittsburgh No-Shows.

That was one of the headlines on this page last Sunday. Four members of the Pittsburgh Steelers were scheduled to appear at Valley Mall last Saturday to sign autographs for hundreds of fans of the Black and Gold during a memorabilia show.

None of them showed up.

A couple of the players had what sounded like legitimate excuses. Ryan Clark's flight out of New Orleans was delayed, while Larry Foote encountered a number of airline problems and didn't make it.

James Harrison, one of the other two players, canceled his appearance so he could attend a football camp sponsored by a friend, and Anthony Smith wanted his appearance fee doubled when he found out that Clark's flight was delayed.

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Which, once again, shows that professional athletes just don't get it.

These players are paid millions of dollars to play a game. Most of this money comes from fans like those who went to the mall expecting to get some autographs.

Stories like this aren't unusual. How many times have we heard about athletes who refused to sign autographs or canceled appearances at the last minute?

Even worse are the athletes such as NFL players Pacman Jones and Chris Henry, who have become the poster boys for everything that is wrong in professional sports today.

Most of the time, I'm not surprised. Last Saturday, I was disappointed.

The Steelers have always seemed like a solid, stable organization that cared about its fans. Between 1969 and 2006, only two head coaches - Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher - were on the sidelines in Pittsburgh when other teams went through more than 10.

They also have had their share of characters over the years - Terry Bradshaw, Jack Lambert, Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis - which has made them seem more fan-friendly.

I don't want to say that the actions of a couple of players have ruined my image of the Steelers forever. It's just a big letdown that this happened at an event that some of the Steelers were supposed to attend.

Maybe I wouldn't have been so surprised if it had been a star like Ben Roethlisberger or Hines Ward, but Anthony Smith? He's not even a household name in his own household.

It makes me wonder why I'm a sports fan when some of these guys treat the fans like garbage. But they say there's a sucker born every minute ...

The next day, I was at the memorabilia show. The Steelers display near the JC Penney store already had been taken down, but there were plenty of vendors on hand.

Since I'm one of those suckers, I spent $100 on hockey cards, pictures and Sidney Crosby memorabilia. From what I've seen and read so far, "Sid the Kid" seems like a pretty well-grounded person who seems to appreciate what he has. Let's hope that success doesn't go to his head and he becomes like a couple of the other guys who play in Pittsburgh.

Just remember - there wouldn't be games if it weren't for the fans supporting the players. Maybe - just maybe - these guys will remember that the next time they think about not going to an event like the one at the mall.

Unfortunately, I'll be surprised if that happens.

Tim Shea is a Herald-Mail copy editor. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2329, or by e-mail at tims@herald-mail.com.

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