Steelers icon, Vietnam vet Rocky Bleier on NFL protests: ‘It should have never gotten to this point’

Rocky Bleier, a member of the 1970s Steelers dynasty and a military veteran, offered his thoughts on player protests. (AP)
Rocky Bleier, a member of the 1970s Steelers dynasty and a military veteran, offered his thoughts on player protests. (AP)

Few people involved in the NFL’s ongoing national anthem debate are as qualified to discuss the subject as former Pittsburgh Steelers halfback Rocky Bleier.

Bleier, 71, served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. He lost part of his right foot due to a combat injury and had to fight his way back into the NFL after returning from the battlefield.

For Bleier, a four-time Super Bowl champion, the situation is very much cut and dry, and he sees a “simple” solution to the issue that has plagued the NFL for the past 14 months.

“It’s very simply this: This is a workplace, you are at the stadium, you are working that day, this is not a platform for protest,” Bleier told Yahoo Sports. “The American people, they can’t go to their workplace and start to protest about whatever may be happening in their life. That wouldn’t be allowed and that shouldn’t be allowed in the NFL.

“It’s not a violation of the First Amendment at all. You have off days, you can do it outside of the stadium or on other platforms, but not the gameday platform. It’s a very simple question and people are making it more complex than it really is.”

While Bleier’s opinion on the subject tends to lean toward supporting the stance of team owners like Jerry Jones and fans who are openly critical of anthem protesters, he acknowledges that there is plenty of blame to go around on this issue.

“The was a lack of leadership there on the owners’ side as well as the Players Association long before to nip whatever was coming down the road after the Colin Kaepernick situation a year ago, in the bud,” Bleier said. “It should never have gotten to this point, nobody has stepped up to say ‘No, this is not what we do on gameday.’”

After Kaepernick’s protest began in August 2016, the movement grew little over the course of last season. The protests grew this season as the former 49ers quarterback remained unemployed and exploded when President Donald Trump made a derogatory reference to NFL players at a political rally last month.

“It was a year ago that Kaepernick took a knee, so if you’re the commissioner or an owner, you have to be proactive in saying this: ‘If it never happens again, fine, but if it does, what is our position?’” Bleier said.  “Somewhere along the line I have not seen the leadership maybe I expected from the commissioner and the owners in this situation.”

Since Trump’s comments and his repeated attacks on the NFL, owners and players have met to discuss how to address the social injustices that Kaepernick began protesting last season. Despite not having a job in the league and having filed a lawsuit against the NFL alleging collusion, Kaepernick was invited to attend the next meeting between the NFL and the players coalition next week. Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson reported Kaepernick plans to attend.

With dialogue lines open, there is hope for a resolution.

“You can’t allow it to continue to drag on,” Bleier said. “Otherwise, it will be like an open sore that heals and if you peel off the scab again and it will continuously be there.”

Rocky Bleier will be in attendance at Empire City Casino in Yonkers, New York for Sunday night’s Steelers-Lions contest and will take part in a meet-and-greet with fans at Dan Rooney’s Sports Bar from 8 p.m.-10 p.m. ET.

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