The Steelers selecting James Conner is a story much bigger than football


Jack Hillgrove, Sports Editor

With the passing of Dan Rooney, it seemed like the Steelers dedicated their 2017 draft class to the Ambassador, drafting players who had great character and were positive figures not only in sports, but also in today’s society.

James Conner shows all of the above, and then some.

Personally, watching Arthur Moats announce that the Steelers took Conner with the 105th pick moved me to tears. It is a moment that I will remember for years to come.

Pittsburgh sports fans felt the same way, but it was different for me knowing him personally. I have seen first-hand the kind of man he is, the integrity he has, and work ethic and drive he carries on and off the field.

The fact that Conner was drafted into the NFL is a remarkable story alone. However, the fact he is staying home in Pittsburgh is almost a Hollywood-scripted movie that goes far beyond football.

During the 2016 campaign, Conner’s motto was “to play for those who can’t.” Each game he went in with the mindset that he would perform for people who are unable to chase their dream.

Two of those individuals included Andrew Malesiewski, a wrestling standout from Conner’s hometown of Erie, Pa., who broke his neck and is unable to walk, and Andrew O’Neil, who recently passed away from cancer at only 5 years old.

Conner himself had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in November 2015. He received 12 chemotherapy treatments through Dr. Stanley Marks, the chairman of the cancer center at UPMC. After those treatments and countless hours of fatigue and illness, Conner received the call from Dr. Marks that he was cancer free and cleared to return to football.

So in essence, Dr. Marks, UPMC, and the city of Pittsburgh saved Conner’s life.

For a man like Conner, after what he has gone through, to be able to fulfill his lifelong dream in the city that saved him is the greatest thing that could have happened in the NFL draft.

It’s hard to predict how good of a career a rookie will have in any sport. Nevertheless, I know that Conner will not give up. He has shown in the past the fight and motivation he has, and I believe that will translate into a successful career in the NFL, and make him a hero in the city of Pittsburgh.