Tim Benz: Steelers suddenly supporting Big Ben. What took so long? | TribLIVE.com
Tim Benz, Columnist

Tim Benz: Steelers suddenly supporting Big Ben. What took so long?

Tim Benz
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) plays in the first quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Pittsburgh.

It’s the media — and social media — circle of life.

Become famous and popular, get torn down.

Get abused online for a few months. Become a sympathetic figure. Get built back up again.

Maybe Ben Roethlisberger is now in that final stage.

After months of being the target of misappropriated blame for the demise of the Steelers roster and the behavior patterns of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, Roethlisberger is finally getting support from his teammates.

Current and former.

Support has been there from management. But the silence from many players in the locker room has been deafening. The lack of counterpunch to the complaints about Roethlisberger’s leadership (or lack thereof) from recently departed teammates has helped the quarterback become a sports media piñata.

Now, perhaps, the public-opinion metronome is starting to click back in the other direction in favor of Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger’s former backup, Bruce Gradkowski, may have turned on the hose by attempting to debunk former running back Josh Harris’ ‘Fumblegate’ theory.

Big Ben’s longtime center, Maurkice Pouncey, got the flow going some more by sending out this Instagram message

Fellow offensive lineman Ramon Foster added some positive comments in the reply section.

Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster jumped into the social media fray Monday on behalf of Roethlisberger with a tweet. Running back James Conner did the same when he retweeted a video of Roethlisberger congratulating Jaylen Samuels after his first career touchdown.

Surprisingly, James Harrison went to bat for Roethlisberger on Monday during one of his many recent stops on FS1.

Yeah. I know, right? That James Harrison.

He’s the same disgruntled former Steelers linebacker who forced his way out of town in 2017, ripped Mike Tomlin at every turn since then and endorsed the notion of Le’Veon Bell faking an injury last year if he played on the franchise tag.

Even he is refuting the idea that Roethlisberger is a bad leader.

So my question to all of these players is: Where ya’ll been? It’s been open season on Roethlisberger and the organization for months. Clearly, these guys have been aware of the negative climate swirling around their leader. Except for Gradkowski, who responded quickly, why had there been no return-of-serve against any of these charges until recently?

Especially against Brown. He has been yapping since early January.

And why silence from Conner, in particular? It’s not like the guy is absent from social media. He’s spent plenty of time liking or commenting on posts from Bell and Brown, many of which have had a distinctly celebratory tone about getting out of Pittsburgh.

I’m not saying Conner had to go all-Terrell-Owens and weep, “That’s my quarterback.” But if he has flashed support similar to this before, it certainly hasn’t been as demonstrable as what he did Monday.

And if Conner did, why not do so again last week when Bell was taking pot shots at Roethlisberger in Sports Illustrated? Or the month before when Brown was complaining about Roethlisberger’s “owner mentality?”

For every tap of the like button for the two malcontents that stomped on the logo on their way out the city, maybe it would’ve been wise to send out a similar amount of praise for Roethlisberger on his own before late March when he decided to retweet an old clip from November. Don’t wait for four vets to do something similar first.

I’ve previously stated that Roethlisberger is far from blameless for how things melted down in the Steelers locker room over the last two years. It strikes me that there may be some merit to the broad complaints about Roethlisberger:

• That he isn’t involved enough with his teammates aside from the offensive linemen

• That he was guilty of redirecting blame after that loss in Denver last year

• That he took passive-aggressive swipes at Todd Haley

However, those who have made him the majority bearer of responsibility for the actions of Bell and Brown are grossly mistaken and intentionally blame-shifting.

The issue for Roethlisberger now is that perception is reality. And whether any of the complaints expressed by former Steelers are warranted, Roethlisberger may have to go the extra mile and act as if they are. He may have to compensate — overcompensate — to acknowledge he’s trying to fix a problem, even if he doesn’t deem that one exists.

Maybe this recent, albeit late, support from some current and former teammates will aid in mending a few fences.

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Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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