Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin on the sidelines at Soldier Field in Chicago on Sunday. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
A Pennsylvania fire chief has resigned after using a racial slur while lashing out at Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin on social media.
Paul Smith resigned Tuesday as chief of a volunteer fire department in the Pittsburgh suburbs, Cecil Township Manager Donald Gennuso told The Washington Post.
Smith had lashed out at Tomlin, one of the NFL’s seven black head coaches, after the Steelers did not take the field during the national anthem before Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.
“Tomlin just added himself to the list of no good N‑‑‑‑‑‑,” Smith wrote in a Facebook comment, according to WTAE. “Yes I said it.”
Smith blamed the media for the backlash and said his family, fire department and the township were dragged into the controversy, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
“I regret what I said deeply and I am not the racist the media portrays me as,” he said in a statement to the Post-Gazette, which reported that Smith is on vacation abroad. “What I said was wrong and posted in anger.”
Smith did not return a call from The Post.
But before submitting his resignation, he criticized his own actions in a statement to WTAE, saying: “I am embarrassed at this. I want to apologize. I was frustrated and angry at the Steelers not standing for the Anthem. My FD had absolutely nothing to do with this. I am deeply regretful at what I posted.”
Officials in Cecil Township had condemned Smith’s marks. Gennuso told The Post on Tuesday, before Smith resigned, that he should be removed from his unpaid position.
“There needs to be a zero-tolerance policy,” Gennuso said.
The Cecil Township Board of Supervisors also said in a statement that it was “deeply disturbed” by Smith’s comments, according to CBS Pittsburgh.
Smith’s resignation was effective Tuesday, township officials said.
[ Two black Chicago police officers took a knee in a precinct lobby — and were reprimanded ]
All of the Steelers — except for offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva — skipped the national anthem Sunday after President Trump derided players who take a knee during the song.
That mode of silent protest was popularized in the NFL by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who regularly knelt last season to protest police brutality against African Americans.
“Wouldn’t you love to see these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say: ‘Get that son of a b‑‑‑‑ off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump told a crowd at a rally in Huntsville, Ala., on Friday. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
Kaepernick, who played for the San Francisco 49ers last year, is not on an NFL roster this season.
Trump doubled down on his attacks over the weekend, calling on team owners to fire or suspend players who protest, encouraging fans to boycott games, and claiming that NFL attendance and ratings are “WAY DOWN.”
[ These NFL owners gave Trump millions. But when he attacked their sport, they hit back. ]
In an act of mass defiance, dozens of players and numerous team owners, coaches and executives either took a knee or linked arms when the national anthem was played before Sunday’s games.
The Steelers decided as a team to stay in the Soldier Field locker room during the national anthem, an action Tomlin announced before the game.
“We’re chasing something special in 2017, and we’re not going to play politics,” Tomlin said Sunday. “We’re football players. We’re football coaches. We’re not participating in the anthem today. Not to be disrespectful to the anthem, but to remove ourselves from the circumstance.”
He added: “People shouldn’t have to choose. If a guy wants to go about his normal business and participate in the anthem, he shouldn’t have to be forced to choose sides. If a guy feels the need to do something, he shouldn’t be separated from his teammate who chooses not to. So we’re not participating today. That’s our decision. We’re going to be 100 percent. We came here to play a football game. That’s our intent.”
[ ‘We’re not going to play politics’: Steelers’ Mike Tomlin says team won’t take the field for anthem ]
Villanueva, a former Army ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, said he felt “embarrassed” for being the lone player standing by the stadium’s tunnel with his hand over his chest.
“Unfortunately I threw my teammates under the bus, unintentionally,” he said at a news conference, according to CBS Pittsburgh. “Every single time I see that picture of me standing by myself, I feel embarrassed.”
The Steelers have not commented on Smith’s social-media rant about Tomlin, but owner Art Rooney defended the team’s decision to remain in the locker room.
“The intentions of Steelers players were to stay out of the business of making political statements by not taking the field,” Rooney said in a statement Tuesday. “Unfortunately, that was interpreted as a boycott of the anthem — which was never our players’ intention.”
Rooney also defended Villanueva, saying the players have “tremendous respect” for those who served in the military.
This story, originally published Sept. 26, has been updated.
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