The Week That Was in Pittsburgh Sports…Week of 6/1

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By 93.7 The Fan

It was a heavy week, filled with a lot of difficult yet very important conversations about social injustice issues in our country. Here are some things that happened in Pittsburgh sports this week that may not be directly tied to that, along with my spin on them as well. 

5. Steven Nelson Loves Being A Steeler​

STORY: Nelson ended up being the strongest free agent signing last offseason for the Steelers, coming over from the Kansas City Chiefs. Nelson spoke about many things this week, including the police brutality and racial injustice issues. While those things are obviously much more important, Nelson also expressed his appreciation for the Steelers locker room and organization. "They just let you be yourself. It's not like walking on eggshells. You see Mr. Rooney, his family, they always come down. He's always in the building speaking to us. It's just like, it feels like home." 

He doubled down on that via Twitter as well. 

So glad I’m in Pittsburgh man y’all don’t even know the half the bond between owner coach players and staff is second to none best place for a player to be a lot of places can’t say that and trust me I know I seen it

— Steve Nelson (@Nelson_Island) June 4, 2020

SPIN: He's says that the main motivation for saying these things is to spread positivity during these times. I certainly appreciate that. It also makes me wonder, especially with that tweet, what kind of things he might be referring to. Were things that bad in Kansas City? You didn't hear a whole lot about Nelson last year and that, in my mind, was a good thing. He didn't get burned. He wasn't a liability. He quietly went about his business and although he didn't make the flashier plays like his defensive back counterparts Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joe Haden, he was rated right there with them by NFL scouts and publications. It was refreshing to see consistency from the cornerback position aside from Haden. It also leads me to believe that all reports of some kind of fractured locker room or lost "Steeler Way" that was speculated about when a certain someone who wore #84 stirred up some trouble, were way overblown. As I thought they were. 

4. Pens-Canadiens Series, Playoff Format Comes Into Clearer Focus 

STORY: The NHL announced on Thursday that the Qualifying Round, the one in which the 5 seed Penguins would play the 12 seed Canadiens, will be a 5-game series. The rest of the playoff series from there would be 7-game series. It was also announced that the teams will reseed after that Qualifying Round, so that highest seed would play the lowest seed remaining and the 2nd-highest seed would play the 2nd-lowest seed. 

SPIN: I've heard concerns about too many 7-game series making the timeline a little too tight and maybe drawing out the season too long, potentially deep into September, especially if they only get started at the beginning of August. That August timeline does seem most likely at this point. I've also heard concerns about a second wave of the coronavirus possibly coming our in the fall and wanting to make sure this season continuation is completed.

My thought is that if you are going to try to finish the season and have a postseason, then you make it as much like the normal postseason as possible. Which in this case means as many 7-game series as possible. Making any further modifications would just water down and somewhat legitimatize what these amended playoffs are. So I don't love that it's a 5-game series for the Qualifying Round, but I can understand why given that the Canadiens wouldn't even be a playoff team under normal circumstances and hopefully...hopefully...the Penguins shouldn't have a problem in disposing them quickly.   

3. Penguins Player Tests Positive For Coronavirus

STORY: Report surfaced Thursday that an unidentified player on the Penguins roster tested positive for coronavirus. That member was not in Pittsburgh and is already on his way to a full recovery. 

SPIN: Welcome into the possible future over the next few months. There are likely to be players, coaches, staff that test positive along the way across the league. But it can't go into shutdown mode when it happens. And I don't expect it to. NHL.com's Dan Rosen told The Fan Morning Show Friday that this shows the NHL has that mentality, that even after a report like this surfaces, they are still pressing on with the playoff format and figuring out a timeline and hub cities to play in. As Rosen noted, as long as it's not an "outbreak" it should be a continuation of business. I'm sure they will need to establish rules and guidelines for how long a player is to be quarantined after testing positive. 

This is also the factor that no one can really control. Superstars aren't immune to the virus. This isn't something they can just play through. It could make a dramatic impact on these playoffs, Penguins or not. But it's all part of the risk. 

2. Sidney Crosby Called Out For Lack Of Statement...Then Makes A Statement
STORY: In the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis late last week and the protests that took place across the country afterward, Evander Kane said on ESPN's "First Take": “We’ve been outraged for hundreds of years, and nothing has changed.  It’s time for guys like Tom Brady and Sidney Crosby and those type of figures to speak up about what is right and clearly in this case, what is unbelievably wrong. That’s the only way we’re going to actually create that unified anger to create that necessary change, especially when you talk about systematic racism.” A couple days later, Crosby released this statement on social media via his foundation.

pic.twitter.com/0aqOdeoMyY

— Sidney Crosby Foundation (@87Foundation) June 3, 2020  

SPIN: I don't think Evander Kane was wrong in what he said. It's important for athletes to use their platforms to speak about important issues like this. But to do it publicly like this, on national television and put all the pressure on Sid to come up with words to say immediately bothers me a little. The idea of monitoring which athletes or prominent figures have/have not said anything on their social media accounts or in a formal statement serves as more of a distraction from the actual issue. This isn't about putting the right words together, it's about stopping the police brutality and racial injustices going on in our country. It will ultimately come down to actions to help fix this problem. A statement is great to highlight importance, awareness and support. But now it's time for listening, learning and infusing those things into our lives. 

1. Chris Archer Done For 2020

​STORY: The Pirates announced on Wednesday that Archer underwent surgery to relieve symptoms of neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome on Tuesday and would miss the entire 2020 season with a projection to return to full competition in 2021. 

SPIN: Another lost season for this guy in a Pirates uniform. If the Bucs are smart, he shouldn't wear it again in an MLB game. It's now looking like one of the worst trades in Pittsburgh sports history: Archer in exchange for Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz. The Pirates can pick up the option on Archer's contract for 2021...it's $11 million. Or, they can buy out the rest of his contract, those remaining two years, for $250,000.

The decision seems pretty clear to me. You cut your losses and move on. Archer didn't perform very well here anyway, struggled to find any kind of consistency and seemed to battle a bit with the coaching staff on how his approach to pitching. It would have been interesting to see if Archer could have turned it around under a new regime, but now we may never know. It seems like Neal Huntington, who loved Archer for years and always kept an eye on him, was 2, maybe 3 years too late. Now all we are left to do is watch Meadows, Glasnow and eventually Baz from afar and see what kind of careers they make for themselves. 

Sigh. ​

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