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Controversy roils over Steelers receiver Ward's critical comments

| Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009

Jerome Bettis, one of the Steelers' all-time great players and leaders, said Monday he doesn't expect a rift to develop in the locker room following comments made by wide receiver Hines Ward in a nationally televised interview that aired Sunday night.

"I don't see it as being a big issue," said Bettis, who rushed for 10,571 yards with the Steelers from 1996-2005.

Ward told NBC that Steelers players were divided over Ben Roethlisberger not playing against the Baltimore Ravens after the Steelers' quarterback developed post-concussion symptoms leading up to the key AFC North game.

Mike Tomlin opted to use Roethlisberger only as an emergency quarterback after Dr. Joseph Maroon advised the third-year coach not to play Roethlisberger in the 20-17 overtime loss to the Ravens.

After the game, Ward said he did not question Roethlisberger's toughness in the NBC interview, which was taped Saturday and aired before the game.

He said his comments were a product of frustration as he thought Roethlisberger would play — Dennis Dixon instead made his first career start because he had practiced all week.

"The frustration is, 'What's the deal• We thought we had him. We thought he was playing,'" Bettis said. "I think it's a little blown up because it's Ben Roethlisberger."

Mike Logan, another former Steelers player, also downplayed the controversy, though for a different reason.

"There is division in every locker room," said Logan, a talk-show host for ESPN 1250 who played for the Steelers from 2001-06. "Everybody on every team doesn't go along with everything, and if somebody tells you differently, then they are lying. The fact they are losing is more of a dividing factor than this personal issue of Ben playing."

Given a chance to clarify his comments, Ward said he used a poor choice of words when he saying there had been a "toss-up" among Steelers players regarding their thoughts on Roethlisberger not playing against the Ravens.

"After he had a chance to think about it, (Ward) said the right things," said former NFL coach Steve Mariucci, an NFL Network analyst. "I think he realized the other players don't determine if one is going to play after a concussion. Nor do medical people search for other players' opinions, so initially he was speaking out of turn, but he did have a chance to retract his statements."

Ward didn't entirely take back what he said. After telling NBC he has hid from doctors the symptoms he experienced following a concussion, Ward said something similar to reporters.

"I've played with concussions before," he said. "I think everybody's had some headaches going on during the week."

Roethlisberger said he wanted to play against the Ravens.

"We would have liked for him to play," wide receiver Santonio Holmes said. "If he had the opportunity, he should have played for us, but he didn't. And we didn't get the job done."

Tomlin said Roethlisberger did not get a chance to lobby his case after Maroon advised against it. Maroon's recommendation came Saturday after Roethlisberger experienced exertion-induced headaches all week.

Tomlin said he didn't tell the players why Dixon took most of the snaps with the first-team offense during the Steelers' Saturday walk-through for several reasons.

"At the time, I was more concerned about getting Dennis ready to play," Tomlin said, "and I proceeded with the assumption that our men understood what kind of competitor (Roethlisberger) is. If they don't, I will tell them."

Center Justin Hartwig said he was not surprised Roethlisberger did not play in Baltimore.

"During the week, he was kind of OK," Hartwig said. "As the week went on he was still getting headaches, so you never know with something like a concussion."

Bettis said he doesn't expect Ward's comments to adversely affect his relationship with Roethlisberger — or players in the Steelers' locker room.

"I think it's probably a communication issue in that the guys saw him practicing and assumed he was going to play but didn't know what all was happening," Bettis said. "I think once Ben gets (back) on the field, it's time to play. I don't see that being a locker (room) dividing situation at all."

Additional Information:

What he said

Here is what Steelers' wide receiver Hines Ward said in an interview with NBC that aired Sunday night about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger not playing against the Ravens. It has been edited for brevity:

'I could see some players or teammates questioning, like, 'It's just a concussion. I've played with a concussion before.' It's almost like a 50-50 toss-up in the locker room. Should he play• Shouldn't he play• It's really hard to say. I've been out there dinged up. The following week, got right back out there.

'Ben practiced all week. Then to find out that he's still having some headaches and not playing and it came down to the doctors didn't feel that they were going to clear him or not. It's hard to say. I've lied to a couple of doctors saying I'm straight, I feel good when I know that I'm not really straight. I don't think guys really worry about the future while they're playing currently in the NFL.

Trust me, the players want to go out there because you're never going to get this Baltimore-Pittsburgh game back. This is a big game. Unfortunately, Ben can't play, so the 53 other guys have to rally the team and see if we can win one down here.'

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