Tackling a tough issue together

Sometimes, you don't know where to start when you are writing a story. Writer's block is normally what's to blame.

That's not the case this time.

This time, not knowing where to start is simply because the topic is one of the most horrific things in society and the story isn't easy to tell.

But it has to be told.

And Coach Mike Tomlin, he is making sure that it is.

Earlier this spring Tomlin reached out to a group called Operation Underground Railroad. He and wife Kiya had heard about what they do, and felt compelled to try and help, in any manner they could.

The group came in to the Steelers practice facility and spent some time with Tomlin in the spring, and also spent several days at Steelers training camp this summer, sharing with the players what it is they do, the missions they go on. They have also been in Pittsburgh this week, visiting with the team during their bye week.

The story they shared, it's not pretty. It's not pleasant. It's something many want to close their eyes to and think doesn't really happen.

The reality is, it does. And Tomlin's hope is by bringing it to the forefront, it can make a difference.

Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) is a group of former law enforcement and Navy Seals who exist plain and simple to rescue children from the horror that is sex trafficking. It's a crime that exists abroad, but make no mistake, it is prevalent right here in the United States.

"They rescue kids worldwide in the sex trafficking and child slave industry," explained Tomlin. "It really captured our attention. We got behind. This is something that is easy to get behind. As a football group we are uniquely aligned. We get an opportunity to use our platform and get aligned behind this. This is something that everybody within our group, every man, to a man, got behind. I look forward to further involvement moving forward."

Operation Underground Railroad deploys their operators around the world, and the United States, on undercover missions to save the children, rescue them from the torturous lives they have been forced into and bring them back to safety.

"This is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises on the planet," said Tim Ballard, founder of O.U.R. "There are millions of children forced into the commercial sex trade here in the U.S. and outside. We utilize every mechanism possible to infiltrate these places where children are being sold. The United States is the highest consumer of child pornography. We are the problem. We are the demand."

Ballard said that 250,000 children are forced into sex trafficking in the United States, and the U.S. State Department estimates 10,000 children are brought into this country as well. The numbers are eye-opening, and through the involvement with the Steelers, more eyes can be opened, bringing the problem to a whole new audience, and that is what is needed to help eradicate this. You can't get rid of a problem, if you don't know, or don't want to believe, it exists.

"What a blessing when Coach Tomlin called us earlier this year and said he was interested in helping us further our mission," said Ballard. "It was a miracle call out of the blue. What a blessing. It's an awesome partnership and we hope to use this opportunity to save more people, more kids.

"The response from the team has been overwhelming. They are on board and it's inspiring to see. We hope this brings a furthering of the movement. That more people get involved, more people rise up. We want the whole world to rise up and say we won't let kids be forced into slavery anymore."

You might wonder, how can I help, what can I do? It can be the simplest of things. In the world we are now living in, it's so common to hear people say, if you see something, say something. Well, that is the case here. Realistically, you aren't going to witness the ultimate horror. But at times there are signs that something is wrong, things that you might notice, and that is when you have to speak up.

"Awareness is the biggest problem," said Ballard. "It's not something you want to look at. It's horrific. These are children. It's easy to turn a blind eye to it. As long as we do that, this problem is never going to go away. We need to get the word out and we can think of no one better than the Pittsburgh Steelers help us do that.

"If you see something is off, you look at a kid who doesn't seem to belong to that adult. There is something inside human beings that we sense something is wrong. If you do, call the police. It could lead to something bigger.

"People have to get involved, people have stand up and see the problem and be made aware of the problem. For the Steelers fan base to see it's a real problem, they can standup and be a voice for the voiceless, provide leads for us to get these kids out."

To learn more about what they do, visit https://ourrescue.org/ And whatever you do, don't just close your eyes to it.

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