reaking newscast in the middle of a tight game

The tradition for a fall Monday here is to engage in the true national — or at least regional — pastime celebrating a Steelers’ win on Sunday or complaining about what in the world has gotten into the offense.

But this Sunday, like a breaking newscast in the middle of a tight game, in came politics on the sideline and in the locker room and pretty much everywhere else.

If the ground under the N.F.L. shook from the national debate over race, patriotism, protest and the president, Pittsburgh might have in some ways felt like the epicenter. With teams across the country finding ways to respond to President Trump’s disparaging comments about the league and some players, the beloved Steelers took a drastic approach. As the national anthem played before their game in Chicago, the entire team, except for one player, stood inside the tunnel instead of standing on the sideline.

The town’s professional hockey team, the Penguins, meanwhile, confirmed that it would, in fact, accept an invitation to visit the White House as winners of last season’s Stanley Cup.

On TV news shows and online threads, where one must take a side on all matters, the teams’ divergent approaches made for electric and potentially divisive political drama. But here in the bar stools and diner booths, even widely varying opinions about the issues at the heart tended to come to one big question When did everything have to get so political?

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“What I want to know is why we gave up 23 points to the Bears; no one seems to be talking about that,” said Rose Morton, who on Monday was waiting for a train wearing a black Steelers T shirt emblazoned with the words RINGS DON’T LIE and the dates of the Steelers’ six Super Bowl wins. “Football isn’t politics. Football is football.”

This was not the first time Pittsburgh had found itself thrown into a national political argument that it had not asked for. In early June, Trump announced his decision to pull out of the international climate agreement by explaining that he was elected “to represent the president of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” This grated here but also amused; the smoggy Steel City stereotype is almost humorously outdated in a city of self driving cars and Google shirted shoppers at Trader Joe’s.

But to start a debate within the sports teams — and the Steelers in particular, winners in the steeltown era and winners in the tech hub era, too — may cut deeper than a misbranding of the city’s economic base.

“The issues that are being discussed are absolutely critical to this nation,” said the mayor, Bill Peduto, referring to the racial inequity and police brutality highlighted by players who take a knee and Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army ranger and Bronze star recipient who was the sole Steeler to stand outside the tunnel for the anthem.

“But this just is a way of dividing us in one of the areas we have always been able to unite,” he said. “It should be that part of Pittsburgh that takes over our politics , not Washington politics taking over Pittsburgh.”

Many people here, both supporters and critics of Trump, saw the Penguins’ announcement as an innocuous if rather oddly timed statement about keeping a tradition of White House visits. The team’s president, David Morehouse, worked in the Clinton administration, and one of its owners, Ron Burkle, is a well known Clinton donor.

“The N.H.L. is bipartisan,” said Joel Hollies, 34, a bartender sitting before a couple of empty Miller High Life bottles in a Penguin festooned bar on the south side of town. “I bet Trump can’t name four players on the Pens.”

The conversation was almost exclusively about the Steelers, not only because the team’s decision was the one outside the norm but also because, among the city’s professional franchises, the Steelers are first among equals.

The fan base tends to be older than that of the Penguins’, said Gene Collier, a columnist for The Post Gazette, in large Jerald Hawkins Jersey part because the Steelers were very good long before the Penguins were very good, and the Steelers have now been good for decades the Pirates, Pittsburgh’s major league baseball team, have had longer stretches of not being very good .

Steelers loyalty runs deep, but among some, this was tested by the team’s decision on Sunday. Some threatened to burn jerseys or junk season tickets
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