Outspoken veteran Steelers safety Clark vows to tone it down

| Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Ryan Clark is outspoken, opinionated and, sometimes to a fault, brutally honest.

It's a combination that tends to rub people the wrong way, and Clark has been fine with that stigma.

But when being forthright starts to affect the way your team is viewed and the perception of the organization, it's time for a change.

Following a year in which Clark routinely denounced NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (referring to him as Roger in an admitted sign of disrespect) and was seemingly involved in a daily war-of-words with somebody, the veteran Steelers' safety is going quiet — all for the greater good of the team.

“Some of the attention that you draw when the statements you make are against the people who make the rules, I think it makes it harder on your team,” Clark said. “When it starts to affect the way your team is viewed, when it starts affecting the perception of your organization, you have to look at it and understand the greater good.”

The Steelers have been at the forefront of a number of hot-button topics over the past two years, from illegal hits to fines to suspensions.

They've spoken out about their dissatisfaction with Goodell and more than a dozen fines levied against them last year for nearly $200,000, including Clark's record-setting $40,000 fine in November.

The Steelers were the only team that didn't vote in favor of the new collective bargaining agreement last August, citing Goodell would have too much power when it came to disciplinary actions.

They even questioned their own leader — NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith.

“The perception of our team was starting to be tainted,” Clark said. “It went from us being hard-nosed, tough football players to maybe being dirty and not really caring about rules. That wasn't the case; It was that you were feeling that you were mistreated.”

The realization that the organization was being viewed in a negative light was a big factor for Clark's sudden change of philosophy.

“I think image is important for a lot of things, especially in the entertainment industry,” said Troy Polamalu, who Clark had a conversation with about toning it down this year.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Clark's decision of not lashing out this year was not mandated by the organization.

“We believe that players are entitled to their opinions, but we try to give them guidelines as the best way to go about it for themselves and the organization,” Colbert said. “We encourage them to handle their business in a professional manner because it is a part of their job.”

Clark has never been disciplined by the league or the organization for what he's said publicly, but he has had to repeatedly defend himself, mostly after critical social media posts.

Clark tweeted about the Saints bounties and the “snitches” that turned them in, how “nobody” wanted to sign with the Dolphins because general manager Jeff Ireland is “not a good guy making decisions” and boasted about the New England's Super Bowl XLVI loss to the N.Y. Giants when he tweeted “0-2 post spy gate!”

And then there was that public feud between Clark and ESPN's Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless this spring on “First Take.”

“As players, we are expected to be muted soldiers,” guard Willie Colon said. “They want us to play and not complain and not have opinions and not express emotions. I have never had problems with what he said because when he would lash out, I always can count him talking with an educated mindset.”

Clark found himself being the sounding board on not only issues involving the Steelers, but those involving other teams. That's when he realized it had gone too far.

“We were starting to fight other people's battles,” Clark said. “Any time a hit came up, they asked us and we would go off about the commissioner … and that wasn't helping us out at all.”

Clark, who signed with the Steelers in 2006, knows the end of his career isn't far off. He will turn 33 in October and has two years left on his contract — two years, he said, he would like to enjoy alongside Polamalu rather than being outspoken against the commissioner.

“I want to focus on football,” Clark said. “Our time to win a championship is winding down so I want to put all my focus into that. But I am (still) going to give my opinion.

“There is no situation where I said I am going to shut up. I am going to be me, I am going to speak out and be honest.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mkaboly@tribweb.com

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