Steelers safety Mike Mitchell rips officiating: 'Just hand us all some flags'

PITTSBURGH -- Steelers safety Mike Mitchell launched a passionate four-minute-long rant about the league's stringent policy on hits, resulting in the suspension of teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster for one game.

Mitchell declined comment on his tweets from Tuesday criticizing the NFL's suspension methods. But when asked about options for modern players to be physical but within the rules, Mitchell picked up steam in a hurry.

"Just hand us all some flags. Hand us all some flags, and we'll go out there and try to grab the flags off. Because we're not playing football," said Mitchell on Wednesday from his locker. "This is not damn football. When I was 6 years old watching Charles Woodson, Rod Woodson, Sean Taylor, the hitters, Jack Tatum. That's football. This ain't football. You have to know the risk when you sign up. No one wants to be paralyzed. No one wants to have head injuries. These are all things that are negative. But let's not try to turn football into a dangerous, barbaric game.

"This is how I changed my family legacy. Before I got drafted, I had $368 to my bank account. That is far from the case today. I've changed my family legacy by this beautiful game of football forever. So let's not try to turn this into some evil, dirty game. It's football. It's no different than UFC fighting. This a combat, contact sport. There's gonna be injuries. That's just what it is. But if you don't want to get injured, don't come out here. This is for real men. This is a man's game. Ray Lewis said that a couple of years ago, and I stand by that. It's a man's game. If you don't want to be a little kid and get your ass hit, don't come out here. This is for grown men. Straight like that."

Mitchell, a second-round pick out of Ohio, was drafted in 2009. He's playing the fourth year of a five-year, $25 million contract with Pittsburgh.

The league responded to Monday night's physical Steelers-Bengals game with suspensions for Smith-Schuster for his open-field block on Vontaze Burfict, which came with a taunt, and Bengals safety George Illoka for his end-zone helmet shot on Antonio Brown. The NFL reversed Iloka's suspension upon appeal but upheld Smith-Schuster's ban. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski got a one-game suspension for an after-the-whistle body slam of Bills corner Tre'Davious White on Sunday.

League official Troy Vincent told reporters Wednesday that the NFL might adopt college football's targeting rule that ejects players for egregious hits. To that, Mitchell said, "Good for Troy."

Mitchell strongly disagrees that Gronkowski deserves the same suspension as Smith-Schuster, who was making a football play. He also defends Iloka while stressing the difficulties of playing safety.

The speed of the game simply doesn't allow for less hitting, Mitchell said.

"We are physical safeties. Think about what you ask us to do," Mitchell said. "We're always the last line of defense on bang-bang plays. You never get to see us line somebody up in a hole like a linebacker. We're playing full speed. He's 4.4-4.3 speed. Aim that. You go do that. You can't. It's just the risk of playing football. If a ball is in the air and the man jumps and 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. If you want to see flag football, then let's take our pads off. That would make it easier for me. Now, I don't have to wear heavy s---. Give us flags for me to pull off so that way I know what we are playing. I signed up to play full-speed, contact football. We're not doing that. I feel like I've got to ask a guy, 'Hey, are you ready for me to hit you right now before I hit you? That's crazy. I'm going to mess around and get hurt trying to protect an offensive player because he's running an over route. Dammit, your quarterback shouldn't have thrown the ball messed up."

Mitchell said that happened two years ago on his hit on Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, eliciting a hefty fine.

Mitchell also received a $48,000 fine for a Week 6 hit on Chiefs running back Charcandrick West, though he appealed. In the same game, Mitchell got tripped into quarterback Alex Smith, which some critics said was an intentional play. Mitchell is paying attention to those who label him dirty.

"That's 50 grand out of my pocket because Andy [Dalton] throws a bad ball. Make that make sense," said Mitchell of the 2015 play. "And at first you're taking our money but now I've got a-holes like Matt Hasselbeck calling me a dirty player and trying my character and we've never met before. I donate more money to Cincinnati to underprivileged kids than probably the people on the Bengals. So don't give me that name. My nephew goes to school there and I take all that personally. If you don't know me and you've never had a conversation with me, don't judge us on what you see in football, because football's my competitive side. You know what I'm saying? There's just so much going on in the game right now.

Mitchell slowed down his rant, then pointed out he was obviously "a little flustered" and asked for commissioner Roger Goodell to do better.

"Fans, owners, players are all disappointed in Roger Goodell. We've just got to do better," Mitchell said. "We can't have a guy where you just hand out discipline how you see fit. There needs to be a set guideline on how we do what we do. There's no way I see two people get post-play infractions that don't have to do with football and you get the same suspension as the guy who's making a football play in a football game. It's absolutely absurd. But like I said, it's Steelers vs the world."