Updated: Feb 5
(Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
In an essay published by The Players' Tribune on Thursday, Kordell Stewart opened up about malice rumors about him in the late 1990s when he was the quarterback for the Steelers.
Stewart for the first time publicly went in-depth about the matter in his essay. Stewart was a revolutionary player at the time, as mobile quarterbacks were uncommon and he also was capable of playing wide receiver, which earned him the nickname "Slash" in Pittsburgh.
Stewart was a decade ahead of his time. If he played in the mid-2000s or even in today's game, he would have been utilized a lot better. He was the Lamar Jackson of the 1990s and early 2000s.
Stewart mentioned in his essay that he got the Steelers to two AFC championships playing his style out of the"friggin’ I-form." He also noted that he ran for an 80-yard touchdown run against Carolina out of the jumbo set in 1996, which was a then-NFL record for longest touchdown run by a quarterback.
While running quarterbacks were rare at the time, there were also not that many Black quarterbacks in the league. And sadly, that's why Stewart received so much hate from some fans in Pittsburgh and that's why there were despicable rumors about him. Some people in Pittsburgh just couldn't accept the fact that Stewart was the starting quarterback for the Steelers and was Black.
In November of 1998, an unfound rumor went around the city that Stewart was spotted in a Pittsburgh park engaging in a lewd act with another man.
"It never happened," Stewart wrote. "It was a lie. But that wasn’t the point, right? It was Twitter trolls before Twitter existed, trying to put me in an impossible situation. (Oh yeah, Twitter didn’t invent haters, brother. Haters been around since the Old Testament.)"
Stewart wrote that he has nothing but love for everybody, no matter what their sexual orientation is, and that it's great to see how much the word has evolved in the last 20 years, but at that time being a young Black quarterback and rumors that he was gay in a blue-collar town like Pittsburgh, it was sadly a death sentence.
Dan Rooney found out that the rumor started from a cop, but sources wouldn't reveal the name of the exact officer. Stewart wrote in his essay, "Yeah. Sit with that one for a minute."
The Steelers missed the playoffs in three consecutive years from 1998-2000 and Stewart struggled during those seasons. The combination of not playing well and being a Black quarterback is how the rumors started to spread.
Stewart wrote, "How does it spread so fast? Man, it’s easy. All you need is enough people who are more than happy to believe it."
In a year span, Stewart went from fan favorite in 1997 when he had a breakout year and led the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game to getting a beer thrown at him and being called a racial slur by a man in a Steelers jacket at Three Rivers Stadium after losing to the Patriots in December of 1998.
Stewart sadly continued to hear racial and homophobic slurs directed at him in Pittsburgh when he wasn't playing well.
"I’m not going to lie, that was a really dark time for me," Stewart wrote. "But what killed me wasn’t that people were trying to diminish me as a “man” or whatever. It wasn’t about the gay rumors. Ultimately, I was able to handle that. I knew who I was. What killed me was that there were people in the city who really wanted to see me suffer."
Some people in Pittsburgh didn't treat Stewart right simply because of the color of his skin, and that's a real shame. The rumor was created by a racist cop, and some people found joy in believing it. It's downright disgusting. Stewart deserved a lot better while in Pittsburgh.
"Despite everything that happened, I didn’t let anybody steal my joy," Stewart wrote. "Despite everything that happened, I stayed in Pittsburgh. That’s the thing that I’m most proud of. I didn’t run."