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Is Le’Veon Bell trying to become the most disliked running back in Steelers history?

Le’Veon Bell isn’t at training camp with the Steelers, but if his teammates really miss him at least they can listen to his new rap album.

According to 247Sports, Bell tweeted about the release of his new album on the same day the Steelers held their first training camp practice.

Assuming Bell doesn’t show up until after the final preseason game, this will be the second straight year he’s skipped camp after being assigned the franchise tag.

Bell can’t be blamed for trying to get as much money as he can. Even if the Steelers fan base perceives that as greed, it’s more than just that and his impending exit after this season that’s leaving a bad taste.

The two-time All-Pro running back was suspended for the first two games of the 2015 season and the first three games of the 2016 season because of marijuana-related league violations. And this rap side gig creates an impression that his heart isn’t entirely into football. Even if it is, it’s not a good look to tweet about a new rap album on the first day of camp while he’s sitting out.

Bell is only 43 rushing yards away from passing Willie Parker for third on the Steelers’ all-time list. But he’ll never be No. 3 among running backs in the hearts of Steelers fans.

Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier and Jerome Bettis take up the top three places on that list. All three won championships and all were fan favorites.

Harris holds the Steelers’ franchise record with 11,950 rushing yards. Even before he became immortal by scooping up the Immaculate Reception, the Franco’s Italian Army cheering section at Three Rivers Stadium united Italians, African-Americans and numerous other ethnic groups on game days.

Bleier played on four championship teams despite being told he’d never play football again after he was wounded in Vietnam. He’ll be inducted this year into the Steelers’ Hall of Honor, joining Harris and Bettis.

Bettis, the Steelers’ second all-time leading rusher with 10,571 yards, will forever be remembered for closing out his career with a Super Bowl XL victory in his hometown of Detroit. “The Bus” also bridged two eras of success. Signed in 1996, he’s the only player who was on the 1997 team that reached the AFC title game and the 2005 championship team.

At the other extreme, the Steelers also have had some infamous running backs in their history. Bam Morris and Tim Worley come to mind.

Morris was part of the 1995 Steelers team that went to Super Bowl XXX, but during the offseason he was arrested after police found marijuana and cocaine in his car. The Steelers released him before the 1996 season and eventually he spent three years in prison on federal drug trafficking charges.

Morris’ legal problems were a blessing in disguise for the Steelers because it prompted them to trade for Bettis.

Worley, the seventh overall pick in the 1989 draft, battled drug and alcohol problems after a promising rookie season and was out of the NFL by 1995.

Both Morris and Worley have worked on turning their lives around since hitting rock bottom.

Bell hasn’t sunk to those depths, but he’ll also never be as revered as Harris, Bleier, Bettis or even Parker, an undrafted free agent who won two rings and made two Pro Bowls.

The way it’s looking right now, the best that Bell can hope for is that he’s remembered more fondly than Rashard Mendenhall, not that it would be any great accomplishment.

Mendenhall ran for 1,273 yards and scored 13 touchdowns for the Steelers in 2010, but the beginning of the end for him came when he fumbled on the first play of the fourth quarter to ruin the Steelers’ comeback against the Packers in Super Bowl XLV. Three months later, he questioned in a tweet why Americans would celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden. Then in 2012, he didn’t show up for a game at Heinz Field after learning he’d be inactive. That was his last year in Pittsburgh.

When it comes to pure, on-field ability, Bell is far and away a better player than Mendenhall. Perhaps for that reason alone he should be held in higher regard historically by Steelers fans. But a lot can happen in Bell’s final season with the Steelers.

If Bell plays a prominent role in the Steelers’ seventh Super Bowl title, he’ll leave behind better memories than Mendenhall. But what if his training camp absence leads to another slow start and another early-season loss that comes back to haunt the Steelers when it comes to home-field advantage in the playoffs?

What if Bell has the kind of season that gets him $17 million a year as a free agent, but fumbles in a big spot in a playoff game or drops a touchdown pass, costing the Steelers a shot at the Super Bowl but costing him nothing in his next contract?

What if Bell fails to finish the season healthy for the fourth time in the last five years and the Steelers’ championship hopes again go down with him?

What if Bell makes a “business decision” and sits out an important late-season game or playoff game with a minor injury so that he doesn’t risk his big payday in March?

Bell has hinted on social media that he feels he’s being “painted” as a villain in Pittsburgh. Perhaps he does care about his lasting image as a Steeler and will do whatever he can to boost that image before he moves on.

The only virtual certainty is that Bell will surpass Parker’s career rushing total, but he cares more about the numbers on his paycheck than he does about that.

Or about the number of Lombardi Trophies in Pittsburgh.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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1 comment

  1. Al

    Well written article. I know if the Rooney’s had caved $$ in to LeVeon he’d still be an inappreciative & unaccountable athlete. It is far past the time when a trade should have happened and that is Kevin Colbert to blame. Mike Tomlin is not requiring discipline & drawing his pay $$ by being a pal to the players. What a shame.

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