The Pittsburgh Steelers weathered the media storm for months, with seemingly every aspect of their way of doing business being put under the microscope and examined without a complete data set from outside observers.
Under the most scrutiny through it all proved to be not the two players who decided to leave, but the one who is most important to the franchise, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who among other things was accused of fumbling on purpose five years ago, the implication being that this would say something about the type of person he is.
With the start of the annual league meeting, however, there is been more positive talk, much of it coming from the Steelers themselves. Roethlisberger’s former offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, also joined in on having the quarterback’s back, particularly with regard to the manner in which he displays his leadership.
“Guys have to have thicker skin”, Arians said of the backlash against Roethlisberger’s penchant for calling out teammates, both privately and publicly, which were among the chief sources of complaints for Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell as they marched out the door.
Bruce Arians on Ben Roethlisberger’s leadership: “Guys have to have thicker skin, man. He’s the leader. He’s the guy. Early in his career everybody said, ‘hey, you’re not vocal enough.’ But you had Jerome Bettis and Alan Faneca and you didn’t have to be. It’s his team.“ pic.twitter.com/i0XkdOM9Yo
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) March 26, 2019
“He’s the leader, he’s the guy”, the current Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach said. “Early in his career everybody said, ‘hey, you’re not vocal enough’”, he recalled. “But you had Jerome Bettis and Alan Faneca and you didn’t have to be. It’s his team”.
It’s true that Roethlisberger was in a complicated situation as a rookie. The Steelers were already an accomplished, proud, and veteran-laden team when he was drafted. He was intended to be the third-string quarterback to start his career.
But he was thrust into the starting lineup three games into it and asked to become the face of the franchise, while playing a deferring role at the same time. that’s a difficult social web to weaves one’s way through, about as difficult as it is for the previous sentence to say out loud.
Roethlisberger’s approach certainly hasn’t been flawless. His most egregious misstep was when he tried to deflect blame, I believe out of frustration, following a game-sealing red zone interception picked off by a defensive lineman. He seemingly implied that Maurkice Pouncey blocking the lineman too far into the end zone and Antonio Brown cutting off his route were primarily responsible for his throwing the interception.
I personally feel this was little more than an error in judgement, and not something that he would have repeated had the circumstances been different. Even though it was the team’s first loss since Week Four, he had been receiving mounting criticism for his interceptions, his red-zone interceptions (he had one the week before), and his connection with Brown in particular.
It was a bad look but not a characteristic example of his behavior, and it’s time especially for the national media to get over it. And if we can take Tom Izzo’s players at their word, let’s also trust that James Washington was fine with Roethlisberger’s comments as well.