COOK: Selflessness of Pittsburgh Steelers player on display once again during pandemic

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Cam Heyward

Faith, family and football drive Cam Heyward.

Marvel Studio characters aren’t far behind.

“As Spider-Man says, ‘With great power comes great responsibility,’ ” Heyward was saying over the telephone Thursday. “I’m not saying we have great power, but we do have a great platform. It’s our responsibility to use it to help other people. It’s a responsibility that I hold dearly. I want to do it. I enjoy doing it.”

That’s why Heyward gives back so much to the community, primarily with his Heyward House foundation. He has been the Steelers’ nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton Award in three of the past five seasons. It is the league’s most prestigious honor because it considers a player’s on-field play — Heyward was a first-team All-Pro last season for the second time in three years — and his off-field work.

Back at it: Heyward was back at it this week. Other Pittsburgh athletes, including Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang and Ben Roethlisberger, should be saluted for doing brief videos urging people to stay safe by staying inside during the COVID-19 pandemic. Heyward penned a powerful letter to Pittsburgh that was published on The Players’ Tribune. It was about his concern for his maternal grandmother, Judy Jordan, who has lived in the same Highland Park house for 47 years with her husband, Rufus.

“We all know Pittsburgh has a huge elderly population, and we also all know that those folks oftentimes want to do what they want,” Heyward wrote. “It’s up to the rest of us to look out for them right now.”

Pick up the phone and call to check on them, Heyward continued. “That alone will be a big help.”

Urge them in “the strongest terms possible” to stay home. “Do your best impression of a trial lawyer. Convince them. Protect them. Make this your mission. I’m here to tell you it can be done. My grandma’s been fully on board with the stay-at-home recommendations. She’s been holed up doing puzzles with my grandfather.”

Finally, practice what you preach, Heyward wrote. “Our discipline in locking down right now will save a ton of lives in the near future … You could be helping me.”

Susceptible to coronavirus: Heyward is more susceptible to the coronavirus than many because he has had asthma since he was a kid. “I still carry an inhaler with me everywhere I go. So, please let this sink in: This virus is capable of taking down anyone, no matter how big and strong and healthy they might be.”

Heyward said he is amazed by the response to his letter.

“You never know who something like this might touch, but I’ve received a lot of great feedback. I’ve had people tell me they cried when they read it. They knew I was speaking from the heart. That means a lot. This virus is something that affects everybody. It’s not just going to go away.”

Trying to stay sane: Heyward admitted it is hard “to stay sane” during the quarantine. Being able to spend so much time with his family — wife, Allie, and their three young children — has been the one blessing to come out of the pandemic. “My 4-year-old thinks it’s cool that dad is at home.” After the kids go to bed, a little entertaining television helps. “I’m working on the ‘Walking Dead’ series right now,” Heyward said, fairly giggling.

Heyward said he is doing his best to get ready for a football season that might not start on time if it starts at all. He has adequate weights in his Wexford home gym so he is able to lift. “I’ve had to get creative in the backyard with some of the other stuff. I just got done doing some ladder agility drills …

“I still believe we’re going to have a season. I just want to make sure we take the right precautions and don’t rush things. I want everything to be A-OK.”

Heyward has been through something like this before, at least as it relates to football. As a rookie in 2011, he missed all of the offseason work because of the NFL lockout that shut down the league from March 12 to July 25.

“I couldn’t even communicate with the coaches,” Heyward said. “At least this time, we’re going to be able to have virtual meetings.”

Sad laugh: Heyward laughed a sad laugh when he talked about the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was just negotiated by the NFL and the NFL Players’ Association.

“A lot of guys were complaining about wanting more time off. Well, we’re getting more time off now. A lot more time off. None of us wants that.”

Heyward finished his letter in The Players’ Tribune by asking Pittsburgh people to donate to the Emergency Action Fund at the Pittsburgh Foundation, which provides grants to nonprofits that assist senior citizens, health-care providers, the homeless and children.

“They’ve already raised more than $11 million in the past few weeks, which is just incredible, but I know we can push that number higher.

“We’re all in this together, Pittsburgh. Let’s hunker down. Let’s be patient. Let’s do this for each other.”

And, finally, something all of us in this great city can appreciate:

“If I’ve ever learned anything from all those drives from the airport to Downtown, it’s that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”