Teammates rebuff Goodell's claims no one defended Ben
FORT WORTH, Texas — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's claim that Ben Roethlisberger's teammates didn't support him following a tumultuous offseason is news to them.
"That's baloney," inside linebacker James Farrior said yesterday after the Steelers arrived in North Texas for Super Bowl XLV. "All of the guys in the locker room love Ben. No matter what people say, how people think we feel about Ben, we love the guy."
The Steelers' franchise quarterback may be a lightning rod for the media this week, but Goodell sparked the first real controversy of Super Bowl XLV.
Goodell, who visited Steelers training camp Aug. 5, told Sports Illustrated's Peter King that he talked to more than 20 of Roethlisberger's teammates during the offseason.
"Not one, not a single player, went to his defense," Goodell said in a story on SI's website yesterday. "It wasn't personal in a sense, but all kinds of stories like, 'He won't sign my jersey.' "
Sports Illustrated issued a clarification late Monday night and said Goodell was referring to NFL players — and not Roethlisberger's Steelers teammates specifically — when the commissioner said nobody came to Roethlisberger's defense.
Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for six games in April after the quarterback was accused of sexual assault. Goodell reduced the suspension to four games while lauding the changes Roethlisberger had made off the field.
Goodell's remarks caught the Steelers by surprise.
"I'm just thankful that my teammates are who they are, and I'm really appreciative of it," Roethlisberger said.
Roethlisberger's teammates rushed to his defense during the first media availability here.
Wide receiver Hines Ward said he didn't recall talking to Goodell about Roethlisberger.
Farrior said when Goodell met with the Steelers during training camp, he pressed the commissioner about Roethlisberger's suspension.
"I really didn't want to talk about anything else but the suspension," said Farrior, whom coach Mike Tomlin recently called the unquestioned leader of the Steelers. "He tried to get off the subject and really didn't give us any answers that we were looking for."
The Steelers have been supportive of Roethlisberger's efforts to right the wrongs that could have brought down his career in Pittsburgh.
In April, director of football operations Kevin Colbert said that the team didn't condone Roethlisberger's behavior but believed he deserved the chance to redeem himself.
"I'm not surprised by his success on the field nor his behavior off the field since that time," Colbert said yesterday.
Colbert said that the Steelers never tried to trade Roethlisberger after he was accused of sexual assault twice in a nine-month span.
Colbert said trade talk leading up to the NFL draft is standard operating procedure as the Steelers gauge interest other teams have of moving up or down in the first round.
"We never shopped anybody during that period," Colbert said, disputing reports that had indicated otherwise.
Goodell's comments to SI put him at odds with the Steelers for the second time this season.
His crackdown on dangerous hits led to outside linebacker James Harrison getting fined four times in 2010. And Steelers players questioned whether the league was targeting them and the team's style of play while making player safety a priority.
They seemed just as miffed about why Goodell appeared to be targeting Roethlisberger at the start of a weeklong NFL celebration.
In addition to saying the Steelers players had not come to Roethlisberger's defense, Goodell said he had no personal connection to the two-time Super Bowl winner.
"I don't know what he means by 'come to his defense,' " Tomlin said. "Ben is a highly respected member of our football team not only because of what he's done this year but just his body of work and the person that he is.
"We all fall short of perfection, we all make mistakes. He's doing the best that he can in terms of moving forward with it, as are his teammates."
Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel, perhaps Roethlisberger's closest friend on the team, said, "I've always had Ben's back. I think everyone was behind him. Everyone just didn't really know how to respond to all the questions and all the scrutiny."