The national sports media can’t talk enough about all of Ben Roethlisberger’s supposed flaws, as laid out by disgruntled ex-Steelers Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and others.
Meanwhile, all of Pittsburgh is steaming at what it sees as a vast anti-Ben conspiracy.
The plot is nothing short of a bid to destroy Ben Roethlisberger and thus the Steelers.
Perhaps this is because Ben and the boys could be just fine without Brown and Bell – and they know it.
So why not go after the man at the top?
But who would think players with an agenda would be aided by softball interviews by national sports media sites?
The latest of which is a Le’Veon Bell “Ben bitchfest” accommodated by Sports Illustrated, which lets stand a series of outright lies by the running back.
The result is a feud pitting Brown, Bell and their national sports media allies against local Pittsburgh media personalities. They, along with many fans who call in to to sports talk shows, are coming to Ben’s defense by calling out all the falsehoods being spun by the Steel City castoffs.
It’s gotten ugly and nasty fast.
But right now, Pittsburgh is rallying around Big Ben because they see the rest of the national media with their knives out for the two time Super Bowl champion.
Ben is in the midst of big contract extension with the Steelers that will probably be his last. As a result, he has remained mum amid all the criticism.
Some analysts and many fans would like to see Ben come out swinging against Brown, Bell and the national press. But the majority, myself included, feel he is in a no-win situation and is playing it smart by simply staying silent.
Instead, all of all of Pittsburgh should hope Ben does his loudest speaking on the football field in 2019. That’s when he and the offense can show the world that they’ll be just fine without the distractions of Brown and Bell.
But this statement to end all the debate can’t come for months, not until the start of the regular season.
Meanwhile, the nastiness is left to play out, as it has become Pittsburgh against the world in defending Big Ben.
You will recall how this “beat-up-Ben wave” all began: With one Antonio Brown, who stormed out of a late season practice saying Ben threw a football at him for missing a route in the run up to the season finale with the Bengals.
Brown would not play another game for the black and gold. It has all been downhill from there when it comes to Roethlisbeger’s reputation, at least as far as the national sports media is concerned.
One recent story, jawboned about long and hard on ESPN and FSI, had Big Ben fumbling the football on purpose because he supposedly didn’t like the play call.
In Pittsburgh, which has its share of bridges, this was a bridge too far:
Joe Starkey writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette smells a conspiracy and says the person at the center of it all is Brown.
The motive? Money. Always the dollars.
“For all those wondering why Roethlisberger is getting mercilessly shredded — and I’ve been asked that question a lot lately — the answer goes like this: because Antonio Brown wanted out of Pittsburgh in order to secure a guaranteed contract and apparently figured (or was advised) that assailing Roethlisberger would help grease the skids.
There would have been no smear campaign if Brown could have persuaded the Steelers to give him a new deal.”
Hard to argue with that. But Starkey then chronicles how the conspiracy to destroy Roethlisbeger widened through the echo chamber of the national sports media machine:
“Brown retweeted derogatory tweets about Roethlisberger. And I’d be willing to bet it was Big Chest and his agent who fed ex-players-turned-media their B.S. talking points.
Deion Sanders, Shannon Sharpe and others told the world that Roethlisberger, not the receiver who skipped work and threw tantrums and quit on his teammates, was the real problem in the room.
For sure, Brown got a hold of former Green Bay Packers receiver and current ESPN contributor Greg Jennings and convinced him of that. Jennings, in a matter of weeks, went from praising Roethlisberger as the ultimate competitor to denigrating him as a guy who undermines his own team. A lunch date with Big Chest had clearly swayed him.”
The media softballs propping up Brown and Bell reached a crescendo with the Sports Illustrated puff-piece that attacked Roethlisberger and the Steelers ruthlessly.
Bell’s most outrageous remark – the Steelers don’t treat players as humans.
Wow. Just wow.
The Pittsburgh sports media wasn’t having it, and they bit back.
Blunt, tough-talking Pittsburgh radio host Mark Madden took the lead, tweeting: “Everything Lev Bell said was pothead gibberish. Take another toke, Spicoli.”
But that was just the opening salvo.
Check out the Steelers Update podcast for much more on the widening war between Brown, Bell and the national media and the Pittsburgh sports personalities coming to the defense of Big Ben:
As Mark Kaboly with The Athletic notes, all this ugliness could end with the the town, the team and their quarterback uniting like never before:
“I may be wrong here but I feel that Ben Roethlisberger may be looked at badly nationally after these past couple of month but he may be more popular now in the city than ever before. What say you?”
Let’s hope he’s right.
NOTE: John Luciew is an award-winning reporter for PennLive and a 25-year Steelers season ticket-holder. His podcast is presented from the obsessively over-informed perspective of an avid Steelers’ fan.