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Hard Count Episode 18-4: Le’Veon Bell, Vita Vea, Colin Kaepernick and Nike

Your weekly dose of opinion about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the league.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The pre-season is in the books, the regular season is about to start and on this coming Sunday - well, Saturday afternoon or evening really - the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will storm into New Orleans to take on the Saints!

If that wasn’t drama enough, we’ve got some other things happening around the league. So let’s jump right in.

OFFSIDES: Le’Veon Bell Not Returning to Steelers Apparently

Superstar running back Le’Veon Bell has not signed his franchise tag with the Pittsburgh Steelers, has not returned to the team and apparently will not play in Week 1.

His entire future is in question, with Bell firmly in the driver’s seat, kind of.

This is a sensitive subject. One with three sides. Fans, Franchise and Players.

For the fans, they want to see their players on the field. They pay good money to do so, and when they don’t get to see their guys for anything other than an injury it tends to ruffle the collective feathers a bit.

Now, some fans are ok with Bell’s holdout. Some are not. Such is life.

Bell has maintained that his pursuit of such a large purse for his services isn’t all about him, and is more about his running back brethren. Well, it seems his pursuit of securing better futures for his position-mates is about to impact the futures of his teammates and it isn’t sitting all that well for some of them.

I chose this tweet for a very specific reason. As it says in the tweet itself, the comments came from the Steelers’ player representative.

There has been much debate over the past few seasons - even further really - about how player contracts, suspensions, treatment, etc are handled within the league. Well, Foster is the guy chosen to represent the interests and opinions of the Steelers when it comes to discussing matters like this.

It’s a leadership position, make no mistake about that. So, for him to come out in anger or disappointment as it might be, is a big deal.

Bell’s ‘Robin Hood’ claims always felt a bit shallow. Sure, his receiving a bigger contract sets up future backs, but that’s kind of a residual impact felt across the board by every position. It’s not specific to this one.

And if this superstar is going to seriously look out for the interests of a group of peers, it should be his teammates first.

It’s hard to balance personal ambitions with teammate responsibilities. Some would argue he has no responsibility to his teammates. I would disagree.

His responsibility isn’t to cave on his demands though. It’s to be clear and honest about them. If not to the media and public then to the men who suit up and share in the punishment all NFL players take in the pursuit of football immortality.

It would appear he hasn’t done so. The comments coming out of Pittsburgh by his teammates speak to me more as surprised frustration than anything, and if Bell felt like his front office didn’t appreciate him, he’s really feeling unloved now.

2018 NFL Draft Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

FALSE START: Vita Vea Not Ready For His Close-Up

Pro football is a drama. Who will rise and who will fall? Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out a tight end throws a touchdown pass to a back-up quarterback to win the Super Bowl despite losing the franchise quarterback and MVP candidate.

Well, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are no stranger to drama. Last year it was ‘Hard Knocks’, hype-mania, alphabet diets and ‘Chucky’.

This year it’s suspensions, emerging young talent and the absence of their first-round draft pick, Vita Vea.

James Yarcho and I discussed Vea on Thursday’s episode of the Locked on Bucs Podcast, and in it I addressed the term ‘bust’ being floated around a certain winged social media platform.

For me, players who suffer career-ending or altering injuries early on don’t belong in the ‘bust’ pile. Unless the injury was pre-existing and the scouting staff or general manager just didn’t believe the medicine. Even then, it’s a bust on the general manager, not the player.

Some aren’t so forgiving. First-round picks should become franchise corner stones immediately, or they suck. *spits in disgust*

This thought process is as flawed as it is incorrect. It’s not to say I don’t expect Vea to come back and become a key part of the defensive front strategy. Of course I do. But folks, the man suffered an injury.

He’s not lagging behind the playbook, getting busted for drug use and/or possession, beating women, etc, etc, etc. He’s hurt. Normally, this is not a voluntary situation.

There’s no measurement a man can make that says: ‘Do this many reps of this exercise and you’ll never suffer this injury.’

It would be cool if it did, but it doesn’t work that way. Vea isn’t one regular season game into his rookie year yet. Several players have missed more time than Vea likely will and have gone on to be just fine. Ask Odell Beckham Jr.

Will Vea be a bust? He could? But is he before the second week of September in the year he was drafted because he suffered an unfortunate injury? No.

Let’s slow down on the bust conversations a bit. At least until he gets to file taxes on his first-round contract first.

Nike Uses Controversial Football Quarterback Colin Kaepernick In New Ad Campaign Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


And here we go.

Name a more polarizing player in the history of the NFL outside of Colin Kaepernick. You can’t.

Nike knows this, and went all in on his message.

There are more wrinkles to this saga than I can even try to accurately iron out in one Bucs Nation posting.

But I do have some thoughts, and will share them with those of you who choose to read them here and now.

First, racism is very much alive in America. Hell, it’s alive all over the globe. I myself have experienced racism in at least four different languages and on three different continents.

I don’t honestly believe racism will ever die. Just last week I was brought back to that reality when I stopped by a local business for some dinner. Let’s just say I was very quickly delivered a message that my presence was not appreciated by the patrons or the staff and owners.

Fortunately, it was an experience I hadn’t encountered for quite some time. Unfortunately, it was one which mirrored some other experiences in my life. Simply because my skin tone is a few shades darker than the rest of the people there that evening.

No, racism will never die.

What can die is the willingness of people to act on such hate. We all have prejudices or make unfair assumptions. My own Wife won’t fly because big metal tubes shouldn’t be able to stay in the air. This hurts nothing but my vehicle lifespan and gas consumption when we go on vacation.

It’s not our prejudices alone which harm. It’s the actions we choose to take based on them that deliver the damage. Which brings me to my second thought.

Our country was built on standing up for your beliefs. The Bill of Rights is very clearly shaped to ensure our fellow citizens would never be forced into group thought or action, but be free to express their thoughts and beliefs as they see fit as individuals.

The key, is not harming others. Violent protests of course are not a part of this. Peaceful protests, are.

Whether we agree or disagree with the protest of others, as long as those protests don’t infringe on the rights, property or physical health of another, they are just.

Finally, there’s Nike. If there’s one thing which can sour a message, it’s sponsorship. If you have time, watch, “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” by Morgan Spurlock, and you’ll see an example of what I’m talking about.

The Sufferage Parade, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech are all examples of successful and impactful protests. None were sponsored.

Nike and Kaepernick hid that he was getting paid by them all this time for a marketing plan which would be strategically released at the right time. An advertisement deployment which quite frankly has been dependent on the fact Kaepernick still hasn’t been signed by an NFL franchise.

Outside of gifts and parties, we don’t tend to hide things we feel will go over well, now do we?

The intended message is a good one. But plastering the word sacrifice onto an ad featuring an NFL quarterback who terminated his own employment and has since had a marketing strategy built around his being - and remaining - unemployed, just doesn’t fit.

This fact doesn’t make the racist actions of others justified. It doesn’t make the message any less important. But it does sour the delivery a bit.

Bottom line, ‘sacrifice’ was the wrong word here. Sacrifice doesn’t get paid. Sacrifice doesn’t get sponsored. Sacrifice is painful and uncomfortable.

I don’t know about you, but a person’s face being plastered on a billboard with a Nike logo is not the image of sacrifice and struggle I’d expect.