In recent weeks, JuJu Smith-Schuster’s pregame TikTok dances have been an ongoing source of controversy surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers, drawing unwanted attention from at least three opposing teams, including the Cincinnati Bengals. Now it’s a postgame dance routine that has attracted the attention of the league—and could lead to punishment from the NFL, including the possible loss of a 2021 draft choice.
After the Steelers defeated the Colts on Sunday to win the AFC North, Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (and kick returner Ray-Ray McCloud) shared video of Steelers players dancing in the locker room.
The problem is that not all of the players were wearing masks, with Smith-Shuster, tight end Eric Ebron and rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool among the maskless.
At head coach Mike Tomlin’s press conference on Tuesday, Andrew Stockey of WTAE (Pittsburgh) noted that there is precedent for the league penalizing maskless celebrations—and asked whether the NFL has been in touch with the Steelers about what transpired.
Tomlin admitted that the Steelers have “heard” from the NFL, and that what occurred is “something we are going to address with our group,” he said. “Obviously, emotions were what they were in terms of being divisional champs, but we are in a global pandemic and we take that very seriously. And so we’ve got to control our emotions. It’s a continual education process in terms of making sure our guys understand how important it is that we adhere to the protocols of the pandemic.”
Then Tomlin seemed to indicate that a punishment might be forthcoming from the NFL, saying, “sometimes the education is punitive in nature and that’s just the reality of it.”
The punishment handed out to the New Orleans Saints after a 38-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 9 could be instructive. In that case, the Saints were fined $500,000 and stripped of a seventh-round draft pick after viral videos showed the team celebrating in their locker room without masks.
On the other hand, there are some differences between the two situations. For example, the Saints video included players and coaches, which could be a point of distinction in the eyes of the NFL and the COVID-19 protocols. Also, the Saints shared at least one video on the team’s official social media channels, yet another way that the situations diverge.
Steelers Would Be Considered Repeat Offenders
However, much like the Saints, the Steelers would now be considered repeat offenders in terms of COVID-19 protocol violations, which could draw a harsher punishment than would otherwise be meted out.
Recall that Mike Tomlin was fined $100,000 (and the Steelers organization fined $250,000) for not consistently wearing a mask throughout the team’s 28-24 win in Baltimore at the beginning of November. Earlier in the year, Tomlin said he was “trying to show a good example” in regard to mask wearing, at a time when Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers), Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks), Jon Gruden (Las Vegas Raiders) and Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints) had already been fined $100,000 each, with their teams assessed the additional $250,000 penalty as well.
Steelers Planning to Punish Individual Players?
There’s also the (slim) possibility that Tomlin wasn’t referring to a possible NFL punishment when he talked about education being “punitive in nature.”
He did go on to say that the team plans to “keep that business in house … as we seek to keep all business in house … as it pertains to discipline.”
Regardless, it seems like someone is going to get punished for the maskless dancing.
“Make no mistake about it, we take this global pandemic very seriously,” concluded Tomlin. “We take the guidelines prescribed by the NFL very seriously. We work our tails off to adhere to them, even in the midst of big emotional moments like we experienced after securing our AFC North divisional championship.”
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