Arguably the most unfortunate aspect about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ most recent issues with disgruntled former employees is the fact that it has created an open season for everybody to feel comfortable coming out of the woodwork to share their criticism. That includes a number of prominent former players, such as James Harrison, Emmanuel Sanders, Ryan Clark, Plaxico Burress, and Hines Ward.
It was the latter who once again weighed in on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s role in all of the recent commotion. For what it’s worth, Ward never had the best relationship with Roethlisberger. He even once created some drama himself when he—publicly during a national television broadcast—questioned the quarterback’s toughness when he did not play in a big regular season game due to a concussion. For which he had to apologize.
Ward, who retired after the 2012 season and has not been a member of the locker room for the past six years, yesterday said of Roethlisberger, “Ben is the leader of the team. He’s been there, done that. I just think he has to take the initiative to kind of do more as a leader. Not just being able to call guys out on his radio show”.
The problem with Ward’s comments is that, presumably, they rest on the assumption that Roethlisberger only offers his criticisms of his teammates in public, in spite of the fact that—again—he has not been a part of the team for the better part of a decade now.
“Take them behind — treat them like, you know, we always say we’re a band of brothers — like, pull me to the side, let me know what I can do to get better”, Ward went on. “You don’t have to air it out to the public where everyone can hear. So I just think he needs to do a better job of that”.
The thing is, we already know that Roethlisberger operates on both levels. While Martavis Bryant was here, he was often a target of the quarterback’s public comments, which frankly were deserved while he was getting suspended and coming up short on the field. Bryant himself talked about the quarterback speaking to him privately.
What Ward doesn’t seem to realize is that the Roethlisberger who is on the sidelines now is not the Roethlisberger that he played with. He’s not even the Roethlisberger that Sanders played with. It was really following their departures, and the departures of many other veterans, that the quarterback really started to ascend into the greater leadership role that he now occupies.
Why the delay? Well, there are two reasons. For one thing, he really wasn’t prepared for it earlier in his career. But more immediately, the Steelers were a veteran-laden group that didn’t need his young leadership, and he needed the time both to growth and to prove himself in the locker room.
Now he is that unquestioned leader, whether or not he has the full respect of everyone in the locker room. I’m guessing it’s a rare player who actually has that. Does everybody in the Green Bay Packers’ locker room care about what Aaron Rodgers has to say? I think not.