Past and present members of the Pittsburgh Steelers have had a busy week while in Atlanta, GA for the Super Bowl LIII media week and as expected, all of them are being asked about the current culture of the organization after a disappointing 2018 season as well as being asked to give their thoughts on what has happened so far this offseason with wide receiver Antonio Brown and what might ultimately happen with him between now and the start of the 2019 regular season. On Thursday, it was former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward who was the most quotable one out of Pittsburgh on radio row and especially when it came to his interview with Stephen A. Smith for his podcast.
After first telling Smith how the Steelers 2018 season was an “embarrassment” and how head coach Mike Tomlin should shoulder quite a bit of the blame for that, Ward then proceeded to place some of the blame on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the role he’s seemingly played in all of the drama that has seemingly surrounded the team for some time now. Ward’s biggest issue with Roethlisberger seemed to center around some of the things he’s said in the past on his weekly radio show that he does during the regular season.
“And then you take Ben Roethlisberger, you do a weekly radio show and you’re constantly putting guys out there and criticizing guys,” Ward said. “We had one rule [when I was with the Steelers]. You had Jerome [Bettis], you had Casey Hampton, you had Brett Keisel, you had Joey Porter, James Farrior, we had one rule and it was pretty simple; keep my name out of your mouth when you’re talking to the media. That’s it. If we talk about brotherhood and the team, and our organization and we’re a family, we’re a brotherhood and this, come talk to me outside of the media. You can come talk to me man-to-man. ‘Hey, I think you need to do this, hey, I wouldn’t do this, I wouldn’t do this.’ You don’t have to keep putting it out there in the media.”
It’s funny to hear Ward say that the Steelers rule when he played was for teammates to keep the name of other teammates out of their mouth when talking to the media as he, himself, was under fire in 2009 for breaking that very rule after talking about Roethlisberger not playing against the Baltimore Ravens because of a concussion he had suffered the previous week in a game. While Ward did quickly apologize publicly to Roethlisberger for saying what he said at the time, he still broke an apparent locker room rule just the same.
Ward was then asked by Smith if he thinks Roethlisberger criticizes some players on his weekly radio show because he’s immature, lacks leadership and essentially is afraid to absorb his share of the responsibility when things go wrong on the field.
“I think that’s the case,” Ward said. “I mean, when you’re the quarterback, you’re naturally put it in a position to be the leader on our team, but when you wear that C on your chest and the age, like he’s on the latter part of his career, I hold Big Ben to a higher standard. Because you know better, you know better and you’ve got to rally the guys in the locker room because they look at what you do. If you go out there and you’re constantly week in, week out throwing guys under the bus, that’s why the offense linemen, they’re criticizing Le’Veon Bell; ‘Why I make this much, he wouldn’t make this,’ because you open that can of worms.
“When you start criticizing players and your captain is doing it well, what are other players going to do? They’re gonna feel like they can do the same thing. And I think for Antonio Brown, he was just fed up with it because at the end of the day, we as receivers, were dependent on the quarterbacks. We can’t really do what we can do if the balls aren’t thrown our way. So, when I hear stories about Big Ben saying, ‘Well, I just won’t throw you the ball,’ then that’s a personal attack, because then now you’re messing with my livelihood, you’re messing with my business, you’re messing with me putting food on the table for my family.”
After sinking his claws into Roethlisberger and Tomlin, Ward didn’t completely let Brown off the hook for the way he’s acted since he went AWOL on the team during the final week of the 2018 regular season and especially when it comes to the wide receiver not returning a call from Steelers team president Art Rooney II.
“Listen, when the president calls your phone and you don’t respond to the president, who pays you a lot of money, you got serious problems,” Ward said of Brown. “Like, that’s the first number that you pick up. I’ve got Mr Rooney in my phone and if he calls me right now, Stephen A., I’ve got to get off the phone with you, I’ve got to talk to Mr. Rooney. And so for Antonio Brown to not respond to the guy who pays your check, that’s disrespectful. And Mr Rooney, he doesn’t say much. He’s not one of those owners that goes out there and talks to the public, and [says] this is what my team needs to do. He sits back and lets the coach do their thing, because that’s why he pays Coach Tomlin. But when he comes out and he says and makes a statement like that, you best believe that he’s angry.”
To close out his Thursday interview, Ward was asked by Smith would somebody now need to go, or would everybody get to stay if he were the one in charge of making the decisions for the Steelers.
“They’re all grown men,” Ward said. “Let’s sit down, we’re 30 and above. We sit in a room and say; Ben, hey, I don’t like when you do that. AB, I don’t like when you do that. Mike Tomlin, this is how I’m going to run my team. I don’t like both of you guys doing anything. Ben, stop talking about players. AB, stay off social media. It ain’t about you, it’s about the team. You’ve got to buy into the team because that’s the standard of the Pittsburgh Steelers. You’re grown men. Sit yourself in the room, lock it out, hash it out, bring a couple of brewskies in there and talk. And then when you leave the meeting room you say, ‘Hey, let’s go out and win us our seventh Super Bowl.’ That’s what it’s all about.”
Ward and others certainly make it sound like getting things worked out between all parties involved is easy to do. Maybe it will be, but it might take more than just a couple of brewskies and one room to to pull that off.