For those of you who don’t know, and the many that do, I was a sports anchor at this station for the first ten years of my stay at WTAE. I covered the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins … and so much more. While I witnessed many great games and outstanding athletic efforts, I also saw extremely passionate fans. Pittsburgh maybe known for having a great football and hockey team, but its made its mark across the country with the most rabid rooters in all of sports.
Rarely does that passion boil over … and turn violent or dangerous. At least not here. Yes, we see the occasional fight in the stands and the rare drunken brawl in the parking lot. However, we have never seen what transpired in my hometown after the Steelers played the Chicago Bears.
My Channel 4 Action News at 6 co-anchor, Michelle Wright, did a fantastic report about a Pittsburgher who went to the Bears-Steelers game. His black and gold lost, but that didn’t stop him from exercising his constitutional right to talk up his team in a bar near Soldier Field after the game. From what we have been told, it was a case of trash talk between opposing fans. However, a drink offered to Zack Heddinger turned out to be less of a peace-offering … than was a near fatal experience.
If you read and watch Michelle’s story, you will see that he was poisoned, nearly died and suffered blindness and brain damage from the dangerous drink. Zack is now faced with experimental treatments, an uncertain future and the knowledge that someone nearly killed him over his football allegiances.
This is what has always pained me about sports. While it’s a release for many, some see it as an opportunity to be belligerent and violent. They feel the frustrations of the week can be released on Sunday … and there is no limit and no rules. That is what has always bothered me about the game I love … and some of the people who follow it.
Steeler fan Zack Heddinger – now blinded and brain damaged – because of a football fan behaving very badly.
I grew up as a Chicago Bears fan. It was the team of my childhood and running back Walter Payton was my boyhood idol. I remember the 1985 Super Bowl “Shuffle” champion Bears with the same fondness many of you remember the Steelers of the 1970’s. I still follow the Bears, but having covered the Steelers for a decade, I became a fan of the team and more so, the players in black and gold themselves.
I also know my hometown and I’m embarrassed and horrified to hear someone in the city that I call home would do such a thing. I can assure you that the guilty persons are in the minority: not just in Chicago but in this country.
The point is that we all should look at the games we watch as just that – games. I cannot tell out how often I have seen fans scream, yell and curse when they watch the Steelers. Folks, while the Steelers love you as fans I can tell you from experience that no matter the outcome, they keep things in perspective. All fans should, too.
I hope Zack will recover fully and that this nightmare will be just that. I also hope they catch the guilty party and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. Most of all, I hope we all look at this as an example of how not to support our teams.
It’s a game everybody. Please remember that.