For the Pittsburgh Steelers, it is critical that they consistently have second-year cornerback Artie Burns out there on the field for them, a constant presence in the process of what they are trying to build. But that is not the only responsibility he has in his young life, as those who know his background are aware.
At 20 years old, Burns dealt with the sudden passing of his mother during his final collegiate season in Miami, and part of his decision to declare for the draft as an underclassman was because he felt the responsibility to take care of his two younger siblings.
He also already had one child with his girlfriend, and has since had another. He is responsible for four minors now in his household in the Pittsburgh area. And the manner in which he has had to—and been able to—balance this tumultuous work-life dynamic is why he was honored this year with the Ed Block Courage Award.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin was the one who presented him the award, and he let it be known just what he thinks about the young man. “I am continually amazed at how he handles it all”, he told the gathered audience. “I have two teenage sons but I am 45 years old. To watch him balance the responsibility of being a guardian for his brothers, and support them the way he does at their high school events and football games and things, is impressive”.
That’s right. He’s not just serving as the breadwinner of the household, but he has also taken on parental responsibilities for his two younger siblings, both in their teens. Teresa Varley in an article on the team’s website mentioned one example of an event that Burns passed over to be there for his brother, Thomas, on senior night for his high school.
“That senior night, everybody was going to have their parents there” Burns said. “He didn’t have his parents there. He knows I am always there for him, from the time we were little. For me to be there for those moments is important. You only experience things like that once, and I wanted to be there for him”.
He created a program named after his mother, Dana’s Angels, that aims to help grieving children who have lost parents “by lifting their spirits through a dinner at the holidays”. It is worth remembering that Burns himself is just a 22-year-old man, only two years removed from the loss of his mother, while his father in in prison.
I think anybody who has lost somebody in their lives, particularly in an unexpected way, can empathize with what he is going through, and share in the awe of how he has been able to handle it. While it’s ultimately not a choice—you simply have to do it—it is, as Tomlin said, impressive all the same.
“My mom, I wish she was here to see everything, be a part of everything”, he said “When I had my second son, I wish she would have been there. She met A.J. and saw him, but she never got to see my second son. I really missed on that opportunity. I wish she was there to see that, and a lot more”.