Perception is a tricky thing. Everybody processes information in a different way, so 100 different people could interpret a sentence in 100 different ways. That’s what makes being a leader so tricky, because you have to customize your message, to some degree, for every person under you. The same strategy isn’t going to work equally as effectively for every person.
Apparently, a couple of former Pittsburgh Steelers players—you know their names—were rather sensitive to certain approaches, especially early in their career, bringing up old lines that they took as slights and which they suggest continue to bother them today, even though they have tens of millions of dollars.
James Washington doesn’t appear to be one of those players. While he would admit that he was nervous during his rookie season and that it was a lot to work with a player like Ben Roethlisberger, who he grew up watching, he didn’t seem to have any issue handling the veteran’s brand of leadership.
As he told Missi Matthews in a previous sit-down interview for the team’s website, he recalled their first interactions together: “when I first got here, it was almost like that tough love, I guess. It was like, ‘I like you, but you’re not ready yet’”, he said.
“Every day was like he just challenged me and challenged me. He ended up having a real talk with me and things kind of got settled down, and he just explained to me everything and gave me some pointers to help me get better. A lot of thanks to him”.
Roethlisberger has a history of raising expectations for rookies and waiting for them to live up to those standards. He was very hesitant to offer much of anything more than generic compliments for Le’Veon Bell during his rookie training camp, for example.
Six years later, Bell seems to have all sorts of problems with the way he was treated by Roethlisberger, or at least that’s the story he’s telling now. I don’t expect to hear something similar from Washington five years from now, who said that the quarterback’s approach “was a lot of help” and that he appreciated it.
Washington is entering a critical year now that Antonio Brown has been traded. Ideally, he will advance enough to ascend to a strong number two position on the wide receiver depth chart, where he will complement JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Failing that, veteran free agent signing Donte Moncrief is likely to start in his place, and outside of that it’s not clear how big a role he will have, as it would probably work on a rotational or situational basis after that point, provided that he dresses.