If anyone was in still in doubt that Ben Roethlisberger was held to a different standard than the rest of the players on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster, the comments of Kevin Colbert on Wednesday should have quickly shattered that illusion.
When talking to members of the local media, Colbert not only shared examples of Big Ben’s leadership on the field, but also appeared to confirm that Roethlisberger had far more leeway than anyone else on the team. Speaking out on behalf of a beleaguered quarterback who has been unfairly maligned in the national media as of late, it would be fair to say that Colbert may have inadvertently done the Steelers few favors with his choice of words.
“Ben is the unquestioned leader of this group,” said Colbert. “He’s the elder statesmen and the (only) Super Bowl winner (remaining on the roster). If our players were smart, they’d listen to him because he’s been there, he’s done it. He can tell them, ‘No, guys, what you’re doing is or is not good enough.’ And I honestly believe that can be a burden on him more often than he may like to admit, because he has to … he’s got 52 kids under him, quite honestly. I want them to step up and say, ‘Hey, Ben, what do I have to do? Can I do this better? What do we have to do to win a Super Bowl?’
“I think that once you win it, you’ve got 53 guys who can say what it took, but right now, he’s the only one, so I have no problem with him. He can call me out, and that’s fine.”
Depending on your point of view, Colbert’s description of Big Ben’s teammates as “52 kids” will seem innocent enough to some and relatively insulting to others. While it is more than likely that the general manager’s remarks are born out of the obvious age difference between the quarterback and his teammates, it would be understandable if some of the more senior players on the roster took offense.
Rather than paint a picture of a team happily following Big Ben, Colbert instead creates a sense of a group that is not necessarily listening and perhaps reveals an insight into the disconnect with Brown as well. It would be interesting to hear how players like Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, Alejandro Villanueva and Cameron Heyward feel about being included with the “kids” who need to stop being “stupid” and be told what to do. Telling a player like Brown that what he was doing was “not good enough” cannot have been well received.
Claiming that he would be fine with being called out by Big Ben is encouraging to note considering it is something that the quarterback has already done. It was hard to understand how Roethlisberger felt comfortable enough calling out the team for selecting Mason Rudolph at the time, but Colbert’s comments explain why he would think he could get away with it. Those hoping that the quarterback’s radio show would soon be coming to an end should expect to be suitably disappointed as well.
Publicly putting one player on such a high pedestal above the rest in a team sport seems questionable at best, and it is hard to imagine that is a policy most teams around the NFL follow. Given the popular narrative surrounding Mike Tomlin’s apparent lack of control, Colbert’s words do little to suggest he is the one calling the shots either.
A notion quickly pounced upon by some in the national media.
"That's not how you create a great culture in the locker room, and that's not going to get guys to buy in." @WillieMcGinest & @wyche89 weight in on the turbulence in Steeler Country. pic.twitter.com/Grqdyhfd3U— NFL Total Access (@NFLTotalAccess) February 21, 2019
Referring to the other 52 players on the #steelers as Roethlisberger’s “children” is as bad of an analogy as a GM could make when describing the QB as the leader. That’s utterly ridiculous. I don’t agree with how AB conducted himself, but I sure do better understand now. Wow.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) February 21, 2019
As former professional player, I can tell you this. I had the UTMOST respect for the leaders on the teams I played for. But I never looked at myself as being “under” them, and they never made me feel that way. What a bunch of that whole situation sounds like.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) February 21, 2019
No. He is NOT justified. But I do understand what he was trying to say, and I can tell you that if I was on that team, I would have a big problem with someone who thought he could “lead” in that way and management enabled to lead that way. https://t.co/yeszvNjJek— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) February 21, 2019
Kevin Colbert confirmed publicly what AB said about Ben’s mentality. I’ve never heard in 40 yrs of playing and covering sports. A GM giving a “player” the ability to publicly criticize another tm mate . https://t.co/0tf4BJO1ko— shannon sharpe (@ShannonSharpe) February 21, 2019
Somewhat surprisingly, former Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison may have had one of the more reasoned responses among the media reactions.
I don't always agree with James Harrison, but he's not wrong here when talking about the comments of #Steelers GM Kevin Colbert #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/lCjaOgaUWn— Simon Chester (@SimonAChester) February 22, 2019
Perhaps being more fair than most when suggesting that Colbert may have simply got carried away in his support of Big Ben.
I would also agree that Colbert simply got carried away with his remarks. pic.twitter.com/N0TeAF1MwW— Simon Chester (@SimonAChester) February 22, 2019
For a man who is normally well-measured and even somewhat reserved in his public statements, it is something of a surprise to hear Colbert endorse Roethlisberger in this fashion. For critics of the quarterback, it is more ammunition to attack him with and for those with an agenda against Pittsburgh, another excuse to question their management.
Like many of the comments that have come from various members of the Steelers organization over the years, these are the sorts of words that would have been better left unsaid in public.