After his comments about players with a “me-first attitude” prompted a rebuttal from Pittsburgh Steelers defensive captain Cam Heyward, retired quarterback Ben Roethlisberger attempted to clarify his comments in a radio interview Thursday.
Speaking to WDVE-FM’s morning show team, Roethlisberger said he was referring to NFL players in general and not Steelers players in particular when he said priorities have changed since he first joined the league in 2004 would have changed.
“I probably should have been more detailed and specific in what I said,” said Roethlisberger, who retired in January after an 18-year career that spanned two Super Bowl championships and three appearances.
“It’s not the majority of guys who think like that. I’ve been asked what’s the difference in the league since I first came, even when Cam first came (2011), the mentality of the players, the toughness. For me it was a very broad comment.”
However, Heyward took offense, saying on his Not Just Football podcast that he disagreed with Roethlisberger’s comments.
“You can’t just say now that it’s a me attitude,” Heyward said. “Everyone is looking to be a Super Bowl winner and everyone is looking to make money and be an MVP one day. But when it all comes together, we care about one thing, this logo right here. When we put on this jersey, we understand that we are very fortunate. We just have to keep living through this.
“I think Ben was a little off there.”
Roethlisberger appeared surprised by Heyward’s criticism, as he said he had that very discussion with the 33-year-old defender.
“Cam and I have sat down and had the same conversation many times over the year,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s not like it’s new to Cam. I get Cam to support his teammates. I wasn’t trying to hit anyone specifically. I’ve formed a rough opinion.”
“Cam has every right to be upset,” Roethlisberger said. “(But) he and I have had conversations. I know he knows what I’m talking about. I agree with Cam and I should have been clearer. The majority of the guys on this team are very team-oriented guys.”
Roethlisberger also said that he and Heyward have talked about toughness and that players aren’t as tough as they were a decade or two ago due to rule changes intended to protect players from injury.
“There aren’t two days left,” he said. “They’re trying to make the game safer, I see. I think it’s wise. I just think the difference between when I first came in and now is that the guys spend a lot more time in the training room. Where guys would stick it on and go, guys still do to a degree, but there are differences in the game.
Roethlisberger didn’t think his upbringing would allow him to be a “me first” player if he were part of the current generation of soccer players.
“I think my dad would probably still hit me if I tried to do some of that stuff,” he said. “It’s more than football. It’s the society we’re in right now, social media.”
Other points discussed in the 17-minute interview:
• Roethlisberger said he recently spoke up with wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who is seeking a new contract and won’t be attending team practices, much like TJ Watt did last year.
“He kind of informed me a little bit about stuff. I told him you’re an incredible football player and I know it can be frustrating at times,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t know if they’re going to get anything done, if they’re trying to get anything done. I know he probably wants something and I think he deserves a contract. He played really well and is one of the – if not the best – players on this offensive line. As this season progresses, I hope he plays out there.”
• Roethlisberger expressed affection for JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was criticized for the amount of social media content he generated during his five seasons with the Steelers
“I love this guy,” he said. “Great teammate, a guy who would do anything for his team, anything for the city, the Steelers. He’s been through so many injuries, so much pain. I loved him. I know there are people who don’t know what to think and don’t like the other things he’s done, but when it comes to the team. … He did a lot of stuff off the field but when it came time for football it didn’t get in the way. He gave us every ounce of his body, heart and soul, so I’ve never, ever had a problem with JuJu – never.”
• Roethlisberger plans to take his family to games at Acrisure Stadium this year.
“My boys are going to want to go, so I’m sure I’m going to games.”
• Roethlisberger has shied away from having social media accounts but is considering opening an Instagram account to share family activities.
“Just for all the things we do, but I don’t know,” he said. “I’m kinda cursed for that.”
Joe Rutter is a contributor to the Tribune Review. You can contact Joe via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .