The kitten you're looking at there is Hallmark Movies & Mysteries star running-cat Steve, the workhorse centerpiece of the Mountain Lions' ground game and a fan favorite. Amid competitors – like Sprinkles, Meowcatron, and the deeply untrustworthy Ben Catspunsbuger – whose flashy names befit their outsized personalities, the humble, understated, eminently gritty Steve has come to represent the everyday, blue-collar kitten, a symbol of Kittenball played the right way.

And so you can imagine our surprise when we checked the game-day rosters of Kitten Bowl II and found the following:

That's right: it appears Steve has been mysteriously deactivated for the showcase event in all of Kittenball, the Kitten Bowl. No mention of Steve whatsoever, no injury update, and not a word from the league.

We reached out to the league for answers:

Their response?

Meow

Typical that Kitten Bowl representatives would revert to this kind of boilerplate PR-speak in lieu of substantive answers. This is a total non-answer, confirming only what we already know of the situation without clearly addressing in any comprehensive manner Steve's deactivation.

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This is too important. The Mountain Lions are entering the Kitten Bowl without one of their key players, and with no word whatsoever on his condition, nor any explanation for the change in status. The league owes its fans – without whom there would be no Kitten Bowl – answers.

As you may have guessed, they stuck to the party line:

Meow

This is an outrage! Kittenball's representatives are engaged in a campaign of obfuscation and misdirection! And indiscrete public yarn chasing!

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Disturbingly, this carefully crafted cynicism has already spread from the league down to its fans and apologists. Asked to comment on the scandal embroiling Kittenball's biggest game, presumed-enthusiast Mr. Fluffers, encountered sunbathing in a windowsill in this reporter's own home, displayed the kind of groupthink Kittenball's administrators have counted upon all along:

[licks balls] Meow [resumes licking balls]

This is contempt for the sports media that would make even Marshawn Lynch blush. The audacity! The sheer audacity! It's breathtaking. In much the same way a cat malevolently sucking the air from your nose while you sleep is breathtaking.

Amid this sad charade, and while the game and all its spectacle draws the eyes of millions, out there somewhere is Steve, hidden away and forgotten. Perhaps conveniently distracted by a scratch post. Or "coincidentally" occupied by a tiny jingling toy mouse. Or going to town on an empty tuna can. Who knows. Until Happy the Cat breaks his media silence and also learns how to communicate beyond purring while rubbing up against a human leg, I'm afraid we will never know the truth.