Steelers safety Mike Mitchell sounds off on Roger Goodell in tirade
On a day when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell signed a five-year contract extension, Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell said the league needs "better leadership."
Mitchell was the most vocal among Steelers players who voiced displeasure with the league Wednesday after rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster's one-game suspension was upheld on appeal, but Cincinnati Bengals free safety George Iloka's was rescinded and reduced to a $36,000 fine.
"We've got to do better as players when we sign the next CBA," Mitchell said, referring to the collective bargaining agreement that runs through the 2020 season. "We've got to get better leadership as who's running the league.
"Obviously, everybody from fans to owners to players are all disappointed in Roger Goodell. We've just got to do better. We can't have a guy where you just hand out discipline on how you see fit. There needs to be a set of guidelines."
Guard Ramon Foster, who is the Steelers players association representative, noted the Steelers were the only organization not to vote for the 10-year CBA when it was approved in 2011.
Although former NFL player Jon Runyan handed out the one-game suspension to Smith-Schuster, Foster said Goodell remains the league's enforcer.
"You don't think Goodell doesn't know about what is going on?" Foster said. "That's who I see it. You can put a pawn in place, because you can fire the pawn, you can tell the pawn to do without it being a direct reflection of you."
Mitchell sounds off
Steelers safety Mike Mitchell weighs in on NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell, league rules and punishments. Audio also includes Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey.
Like Iloka, Mitchell plays free safety. He considers Iloka a "good friend" and defended the Bengals player's character on Twitter, a stance he reiterated Wednesday. He said Iloka's helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown in the fourth quarter of Monday night's game in Cincinnati couldn't have been avoided.
"We are physical safeties," he said. "Think about what you ask us to do. We are always the last line of defense. We are always making bang-bang plays. You never see us get to line somebody up in a hole like a linebacker. We're playing at full speed.
"He's (running) 4.4, 4.3 speed. Aim that, you can't do that. You can't. It's just the risk of playing football. If the ball is in the air and a man jumps or a man ducks his head, how do you want me to readjust my body? You cannot do it. At the end of the day, this is FOOT-BALL."
Mitchell enunciated both syllables.
"If you want to see flag football, let us take our pads off and make it easier for me."
The NFL has taken measures to enforce player safety with harsher penalties this season, including automatic ejections for multiple personal fouls. Smith-Schuster is the first Steelers player to be suspended this season.
"This ain't football," Mitchell said. "You have to know what the risk is when you sign up. No one wants to be paralyzed. No one wants to have head injuries. These are all things that are negative. Let's not try to turn football into a dangerous, barbaric game. This is how I've changed my family legacy. Before I was drafted, I had $368 in my bank account. That is far from the case today."
Mitchell continued: "This is a combat, contact sport. There are going to be injuries. That's just what it is. If you don't want to get injured, don't come out here. This is for real men. This is a man's game. … If you want to be a little kid and don't want to get your (butt) hit, then don't come out here. It's for grown men."
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.