Mike Tomlin invites Steelers fans to join the battle against human trafficking
Coach Mike Tomlin always brings his passion for football to Steelers training camp at Saint Vincent College, but Friday he brought something extra — his personal passion for fighting the scourge of modern day slavery.
The NFL coach got caught up in the battle last year when he met Tim Ballard, a former undercover federal agent who founded Our Underground Railroad. The nonprofit group, consisting largely of former federal agents, coordinates with law enforcement around the globe to coordinate identification and extraction of victims of human trafficking.
Tomlin said he sees the fight to end human trafficking as a battle that could draw a divided society together against a common evil.
That led Tomlin to Haiti two weeks ago when he accompanied Ballard on a mission that was filmed as part of an upcoming ESPN documentary.
It led him to invite Ballard to training camp at the scenic campus at the foot of the Chestnut Ridge to build support for his campaign among the Steelers.
And finally, it led Tomlin to pen a 10-page forward to Ballard’s new book “Slave Stealers.” The book, published by Shadow Mountain, alternates between a true tale of slave rescues in the 1800s and Ballard’s modern day efforts. It’s due in bookstores next month.
At a Friday news conference at Saint Vincent College, Tomlin said his interaction with Ballard’s group has been phenomenal.
“I just had an opportunity to grow immensely with what I’ve been able to see and what I’ve been able to help with,” Tomlin said, introducing Ballard.
The stocky, muscular blond who gesticulates furiously as he speaks, looks as though he’d be at home on Tomlin’s defensive line.
The father of nine boasts a background of undercover work for the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA. He said he was moved to leave his job and enter the world of human trafficking when he was in Haiti. There he heard a family’s desperate plea for help finding their 3-year-old son who had been kidnapped during a church service and taken and trafficked.
“We haven’t found him, but we’ve rescued hundreds of others and we’re in 19 countries now,” Ballard said.
He said the book is a call to unity and service in the battle against human trafficking and sex slavery that have ensnared 150 million children and adults worldwide.
“Children being raped for money is one thing that everybody of every background might agree is bad,” Ballard said.
The United States can’t look at it as someone else’s problem when the market for child pornography here feeds the international trade in human trafficking, Ballard added.
Tomlin said he’s hoping to help Ballard build a movement. He believes his players have become invested in that movement and that it could be a movement to spark a national healing along the way.
“Great societal plagues never end without a massive movement. People have to be involved. They have to be loud. Then things change,” Ballard said, harkening back to the outrage that led abolitionists to demand an end to slavery in the 1800s.
It’s already changed Tomlin. He’s traveled with Ballard, raised funds for the nonprofit and he’s endorsed it in writing.
“My name is Mike Tomlin. I’m a Pittsburgh Steeler. And I’m a Slave Stealer,” Tomlin wrote at the end of his forward to Ballard’s book.
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 412-320-7996, email@example.com or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.