Try as he might, JuJu Smith-Schuster utterly failed at one thing during his second season in 2018: teaching his beloved quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, about Fortnite and other assorted techno bits. Perhaps that has proven to be for the best, because it has sapped any urge from the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback to retaliate to the character assassination that he has undergone over the course of the offseason.
It was initiated by two former teammates before being picked up by the national media, but as those former teammates continue to open their mouths more and more, we’re hearing less and less blame being placed at the quarterback’s feat as people begin to see that those two players…really are just like that. And that they’re the problems of new teams now.
Watching it all unfold this offseason has been like watching a boxing match between a wily old veteran and an energetic newcomer ready to prove himself. The latter has been throwing punches continuously throughout every round, and the wind is starting to fail beneath his sails as the crowd starts to realize he may not have the best approach.
Meanwhile, the veteran boxer has allowed his opponent to tire himself out, and realizing the strategy, the crowd has turned in his favor. This has been Roethlisberger, remaining silent as Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell stoke the flames of his supposed infamy only to birth a cloud of smoke instead—more annoying than impressive.
Earlier this offseason, I made the case that the best thing Roethlisberger could do to defend himself would be to say nothing. While I’m sure that was going to be his approach regardless, it has clearly been to his benefit as we have seen the public discussion slowly turn in his favor and others begin to see Brown and Bell in a different, more negative light.
It’s easy to speculate over what the Steelers ‘should have done’ in order to deal with their problem players to prevent them from becoming problems in the first place, especially when you don’t see everything that goes on behind the scenes. It’s easy to say the Steelers could have not traded Brown without seeing the extent of his pettiness and the potential drain on the locker room that comes with it.
There is an end point in every relationship in this one had clearly gotten there this offseason. It was time for Brown—and not Roethlisberger—to go. There is more riding on his shoulders now without two superstar players, but the quarterback also now has a healthier, less ego-driven environment in which to do it.
Meanwhile, he has helped take some of the negative attention away from himself by simply staying out of the limelight. There have been reports that he is considering extending that into the season by foregoing his weekly radio show as well.
Roethlisberger knows how frequently he inadvertently makes headlines he would rather not have made with his comments. He also knows how much focus is going to be put on him in the media this year. A ‘speak when spoken to’ approach may well be wise from here on out, and who could blame him at this point?