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My Pittsburgh is Stronger than Hate

Dealing with the aftermath of the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting as a Family.

Steel Cityby Bill Dickinson is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

My Pittsburgh is Stronger than Hate

Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

The first article I ever wrote for The Turf was a piece about my love affair with my city — Pittsburgh. Underneath its self deprecating tone, my message was simple: I am a sports fan because it is one of the things that ties my city together, and me to it. No matter where on earth I am, a part of me is with my home and the family it represents. That has never been more true than it was this weekend.

Last Saturday morning, a man, who I will not even honor by naming, filled with anti-semetic hate, walked into The Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, a Pittsburgh suburb, and brutally slaughtered eleven members of the congregation in the place where they were supposed to feel safest. It was the deadliest mass murder of Jewish people recorded in U.S. history, it tore my home apart, and has left me and my city with a singular question: Now What?

How do we “Cope”?

I’ve had to come to grips with something of late. You can’t fix hate. You can protect against it. You can minimize it. You can denounce it and make sure your leaders aren’t enabling it. You can do all of these things to stop hate in its tracks, but sometimes hate still breaks through to wreak havoc on our worlds. What do we do then?

I am a fixer by nature. I come from a long line of them, almost to a fault. When I see a problem, I don’t just want to assuage the symptoms, I want to prevent the problem from ever happening again. Learning that sometimes fixing hate is impossible has been a hard pill to swallow. So what can I(we) do instead? My city’s response to the tragedy of having 11 of their own mercilessly ripped from them has given me my answer.

“When You Play Pittsburgh, You Play the Whole City”

We see it often in the aftermath of a tragedy. Boston after the Marathon Bomber. Colorado after the Aurora Shootings. Florida after Parkland and the Pulse Nightclub massacres. Cities/communities rally around tragedy. Now it is Pittsburgh’s turn to rally, and rallying we damn sure are. In the wake of Saturday’s shooting, Pittsburgh has collectively come together and held on to each other for love and dear life. From every corner of Pittsburgh, support has flowed into the Jewish community of Squirrel Hill. The major organizations and individual citizens alike are making it known that those affected are not alone, and that, no matter what happens, we are all one city.

There’s a saying in Pittsburgh that started back when the late great Myron Cope, color commentator for the Pittsburgh Steelers, would declare it over the airwaves. “When you Play Pittsburgh, you Play the Whole City.” What it has come to mean is more than a catchy sports slogan. It’s a declaration of what Pittsburgh holds most dear. Family.

The city is not a melting pot. Pittsburgh is, to steal a phrase from Jeff Blattner, Jewish Pittsburgh native and Washington Post writer, “a rich cultural stew.” Neighborhoods have longstanding ethnic heritages. Places that started as Italian or Polish, Jewish or Catholic, Black, German, or Slavic, still have those roots deeply ingrained in their communities. And yet, those ethnic ties are secondary. No matter what you are or whom you worship, you are a Pittsburgher. A Yinzer. And if someone messes with you, they mess with all of us. We don’t care what our differences are. If they play you, they play the whole city.

Stronger Than Hate

In the days since Saturday morning, two different Muslim organizations have raised more than $130,000 for the Tree of Life Synagogue victims and their families. The leader of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh stated in solidarity, “We just want to know what you need. If it’s people outside your next service protecting you, let us know. We will be there.” Translation: “They play you, they have to play us too.”

Much like the “Boston Strong” movement after the Marathon Bombing, t-shirts, signs, posters, and other shows of support are popping up like crabgrass, flooding the streets, stadiums, and public venues of Pittsburgh. They read “Stronger than Hate” and combine the Jewish star of David with the iconic Steelers logo. The Penguins wore a version of “Stronger then Hate” as patch on their hockey jersey’s when they played the Islanders Tuesday night. The building almost came down with the cheers that echoed when three members of the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation stepped onto the ice for the puck drop, followed by two police officers who had been wounded in the shooting. 

During the Steelers game on Sunday, it seemed like every other fan had a shirt or a sign carrying the “Stronger than Hate” message. That Steelers game itself was even a show of support.  Colin Dunlap of 93.7 the Fan reported that “Steelers Guard Ramon Foster told us [coach] Mike Tomlin brought the team together Saturday night and in the time normally reserved for opponent game-planning, didn’t game plan. Instead he talked to the team about the importance of playing for the people of Pittsburgh in wake of the shooting.”

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told the Fan that he broke down and sobbed when he heard the news. Defensive end Cam Heyward, a former Squirrel Hill resident, thought of his kids and what if they had been there. The team decided that they would take the city’s grief on their shoulders, and play for them.  This game was not about beating the Cleveland Browns or winning the division. It was about standing together as a city. It was about cheering for one thing as a family.

The Steelers’ own personal family took a hit in the shooting. Their former community relations manager, Michelle Rosenthal, lost her two brothers, David and Cecil, in the attack. “We love you Michelle and we’re thinking about you,” said Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger said he knew the city would come together as one. “I know the Boston Strong thing, but it’s true everywhere. That’s what Pittsburghers are. We’re family. There’s so much love here in this town — for the sports, for each other, for all the different races, ethnicities, religions and everything we have.”

His words echo the words on the T-shirts.

We are a Family

I sit here today writing this with tears in my eyes. I have felt that those I love are not safe, and there is little I can do to prevent it besides clean up the aftermath. But my city is teaching me more.

Hate exists. We will continue to fight it, but it will continue to damage us. When it does; however, we will not let it divide us. We will not simply pick up the pieces and move on. We will be stronger than hate. We will be there for our neighbors even if what we believe puts us at odds. We will defend our community even though many of us don’t look the same. We will hug our fellow yinzers so tight that when all feels hopeless, they know they have a safe shoulder to cry into where no one can get them. We will love more fiercely, band together, and pick our fallen brothers and sisters up.

Because we are family.

And when you play one of us, you play the whole city.

Michael is a Pittsburgh ex-pat living in NYC as a working bartender and semi working actor. He enjoys long walks down the Strip District, thinks yinz should go dawntawn 'inat, and knows that when you play Pittsburgh you play the whole city. But he's unbiased. I swear. Michael writes mostly hockey and football op eds for the Turf, but maybe soon he'll try his hand at covering horse racing or hot dog eating. Who knows. The sky's the limit.

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