Last week, we witnessed former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Josh Harris accuse quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of purposefully fumbling late in a 2014 Week 17 game against the Cincinnati Bengals because he disagreed with then-offensive coordinator Todd Haley not calling for a kneel-down with the contest seemingly in hand. However, if you thought that story was going to die out in the news cycle this week, you would be wrong as it’s now getting attention nationally in the media, and specifically in the morning sports talk show realm.
During the Monday morning episode of ‘Get Up!’ on ESPN, former Steelers safety Ryan Clark was asked if he thinks the accusation made by Harris last week holds any sort of water. Clark, as you would probably imagine, had quite a bit to say on the topic and especially when it came to his thoughts on Roethlisberger and his ability to be a good team leader.
“Uhhhhhhhhhhh, I think the problem is you don’t really know,” Clark first responded. “The Ben I know, the competitor I think he is, I wouldn’t think he’d do something like that intentionally. He hasn’t done anything for me to think that he couldn’t be that petty, though, and so I honestly, what Josh is saying is not far off from who Ben is. He was extremely close with Brett Kiesel during my time there. And I’ll be honest, I have an affection for Ben that’s different, an admiration for him that’s different, because while he was suspended, he went to watch my son Jordan play like a little league football game. So, I feel differently about Ben and the type of person he is than I think other people do.”
After initially saying that he has an admiration for Roethlisberger that might be different than most players who have played with the quarterback over the course of his long NFL career, Clark then proceeded to talk about his former teammate’s leadership style while the two played together several years ago.
“He’s not a natural leader,” Clark said of Roethlisberger. “Caring about people above himself is not something that comes easy to him. And so it’s something he’s had to work on. We had a players only meeting my first year about Ben. Like the legit reason that the meeting was called was to talk about Ben and the way that he related to the team. And so he had to work on those things. But to say that a guy fumbled the ball intentionally, it’s just hard for me to believe that.”
After mentioning the Steelers team meeting that needed to be called early on in Roethlisberger’s career, Clark was immediately asked to disclose the reason why it was needed.
“It was just that people felt like, guys who were there before me, because obviously it was the first year I was there, felt like the guy he was coming into the league and the way that he behaved in his first two years, changed after they won a Super Bowl, changed after they won a championship,” Clark said. “He distanced himself from the team. He wasn’t a guy who ingratiated himself into the culture of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the people in that locker room. And I think that was something for him that he had to understand. And you know, you talk about Josh Harris speaking about him being close to some of the o-linemen, that was the same thing when I was there. I think the problem is, we feel like all of your best players have to be leaders, but that’s just not how it works.’
Clark was then asked what resulted from that team meeting about Roethlisberger and specifically, what did the rest of the team do after it was over.
“Went to work,” Clark said. “He was in the meeting, he was directly addressed, his name was called. It was the reason we talked and I think it was one of those things where older players, leaders of the team, captains of the team, felt like, because that year after winning the Super Bowl we were 8-8, we started the year with a losing record. And so it was a lot of things going on and they felt like that was one of the huge deals happening on the team.”
Now that the Steelers have moved on from running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown this offseason, Clark was asked Monday morning if he thinks the team still has a big problem in their locker room in the form of Roethlisberger. In summation, Clark was essentially asked if Roethlisberger was the real reason why both Bell and Brown seemingly caused so much drama for the team the last few seasons.
“Le’Veon Bell’s problem was money, obviously,” Clark said. “I think Antonio Brown’s problem was that he felt like he was the best player on the team, he just didn’t realize he played wide receiver. Right? Quarterback is the most important position in football and that’s Ben Roethlisberger, who has two Super Bowl championships. And so I don’t necessarily think that Ben is the root of the problem between those two guys, but he does have to do some things differently if this team is to win this year and all eyes will be on him and Coach [Mike] Tomlin.”
After saying that, Clark was then asked if he believes Roethlisberger is capable of doing some things differently moving forward into the 2019 season.
“I do,” Clark said. “And also think he’s uber-talented, right? Like we give guys who are extremely talented a little bit of leeway and leniency when it comes to certain things. And I think Ben understands now with the eyes being on him, with the radar being so high with what the Pittsburgh Steelers do, I think he understands what he has to do to change those things.”
Obviously, it will be interesting to ultimately hear Roethlisberger answer questions about all that has transpired this offseason. From the comments made by Brown, to the recent accusation last week by Harris that the quarterback once purposefully fumbled, to the somewhat Monday morning questioning of his leadership abilities by Clark, the Steelers quarterback should have quite a rebuttal. Whenever that next question and answer media session with Roethlisberger finally does take place in the near future, hopefully he can put everything that has been said about him, and all that has transpired with the Steelers since that infamous Week 17 practice to bed once and for all so that it doesn’t linger into the start of the team’s 2019 preparations.