It seemed to have really started boiling over in the 2015 season, but it has only gotten worse since then. It has hopefully reached a pinnacle with this season, as it has gotten as bad as ever.
The most recent addition to this rivalry has been brought to our attention by Vontaze Burfict’s Twitter account, where he pointed out an image that was shared with him on Christmas.
Vontaze Burfict "dummy" hanging from a noose in Pittsburgh. I don't care how you feel about Burfict - this is absolutely appalling and uncalled for. Stay classy, Steelers fans. (@King55Tez) pic.twitter.com/pVmiCN3ent— Cincinnati Problems (@CincyProblems) December 26, 2017
Now, it should be said that every fan base has extreme fans that are idiots. You can usually hear them screaming to break someone’s leg or knock somebody out. However, over the course of this escalated rivalry, Steelers’ fans and even players have crossed a line.
It is obvious that this is uncalled for no matter what player it is.
This image shows Burfict hanging from a noose at a Steelers game. That is too far, too much, and unacceptable.
This is a guy with a family, and who has a life off-the-field, which is far more important than anything on the field. There is a large portion of fans who seem to choose to ignore that fact, and that leads to things like this.
Beyond that, there are always racial implications when an image of an African American player is hung from a noose given this country’s history. It isn’t funny. As Burfict pointed out on Twitter, it’s racist.
This just stretches way too far over any line that should be crossed.
Burfict notes that if the NFL doesn’t do something about this he will, and he is right to say that. Again there are hate crime implications here.
The sad truth is the NFL knows that people can’t look away from these matchups, so expecting them to take some form of action to stop it would be a miracle. What happened here is wrong, and we’ll see if the NFL responds. The Bengals certainly should be bringing it to their attention.
This rivalry first crossed a line after Burfict appeared to celebrate after Le’Veon Bell went down with an injury two years ago. It was grasping at straws to jump to that conclusion, but it is what the Steelers’ fans truly believed.
Around the same time, Vince Williams sent out a tweet essentially threatening to kill Burfict, and that is where I would argue things went up another level.
The next time these two teams played following that, Burfict tried to talk to Williams before the game, which resulted in both teams getting involved in a pushing match. The game was filled with cheap shots and personal fouls, and ever since, these teams have been at each other's throats. Both sides have played their parts, and anyone saying it is all one side is wrong.
The most recent chapter though was committed by JuJu Smith-Schuster after he had one of the dirtiest cheap shots in this rivalry. He lined up Burfict, who was pursuing the ball carrier, and put the crown of his helmet under Burfict’s face mask.
That wasn’t enough though. He then proceeded to stand over Burfict yelling at him until a teammate pushed him away. Burfict was carried off the field on a stretcher and missed the following two games due to a concussion.
Following that game, the Steelers pretty much supported the hit. Ben Roethlisberger called it “AFC North football,” and as Smith-Schuster was apologizing about the hit, Antonio Brown was screaming “karma” uncontrollably in the background.
The NFL suspended Smith-Schuster for one game, but after he returned he mocked the whole thing by reenacting it as a touchdown celebration. The fact the league took no action for that was ridiculous. To celebrate that dirty hit after just being suspended for it was downright awful and classless and showed he did not learn from his suspension.
I think we can all agree something needs to change. Both sides have played their parts, but this needs to stop, now. It scares me to think what could happen beyond this. It needs to end.