Pittsburgh Steelers captain Cameron Heyward took exception to Ben Roethlisberger's recent assertion that too many current NFL players have "a me-type attitude," saying his former teammate's comments "rub me the wrong way."
Roethlisberger, in a wide-ranging interview published Friday by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said "the game has changed" and "people have changed" when addressing differences he noticed between his early years and later years with the Steelers.
"The team was so important," Roethlisberger said, referring to his first few seasons with Pittsburgh. "It was all about the team. Now, it's about me and this, that and the other.
"I might be standing on a soapbox a little bit, but that's my biggest takeaway from when I started to the end. It turned from a team-first to a me-type attitude. It was hard. It's hard for these young guys, too. Social media. They're treated so well in college. Now, this new NIL stuff, which is unbelievable. They're treated so special. They're coddled at a young age because college coaches need them to win, too. I know coach [Terry] Hoeppner never coddled me. Neither did [Bill] Cowher."
Heyward was Roethlisberger's teammate from 2011 until last season, when the future Hall of Fame quarterback retired. In the most recent edition of his podcast, Heyward said he disagreed with Roethlisberger's observation, saying it made him "a little bit upset."
"It looks as though we are looked at as selfish players, and I don't think that's the point," the veteran defensive lineman said on the "Not Just Football with Cam Heyward" podcast. "We have a lot of young players that come from different backgrounds, have experienced different things from what others or I may have experienced. That doesn't make them selfish or more of a me-type attitude. ... There are a lot more team-first guys than me-type attitude. I took offense to that."
Heyward, 33, cited several current and former Steelers -- including Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Tyson Alualu and Brett Keisel -- who made a positive impact on the locker room and organization, referring to them as "team-first guys" despite criticism over their personalities.
A team captain since 2015, Heyward also said "it's up to the leadership, myself included" to help acclimate young players to the NFL and the culture of the Steelers, who won two Super Bowls with Roethlisberger.
"I'm accountable for those guys," Heyward said. "Obviously we haven't had a Super Bowl in a long time, and maybe that's where Ben is like, 'Man, if those guys would have grown up.' But it's up to the older guys to step up and hold guys accountable. ... It's up to a vet to put you under your wing and pull you across and say, 'Hey, this is what it's like to be Pittsburgh Steeler.' And that's what I'm trying to do.
"Maybe Ben didn't see it that way, but man, I'm going to protect my guys. You just can't say it's a 'me-type of attitude' now. Everyone's out to be a Super Bowl winner, make money, one day be an MVP. But when it all comes together, we care about one thing, this logo right here. ... I've always tried to extend that to my younger teammates. I think Ben was a little out on that one."
Roethlisberger, 40, played his entire 18-year career as the Steelers' starting quarterback before retiring this past January. He was a six-time Pro Bowler, finished his career with the fifth-most passing yards (64,088) in NFL history and led the Steelers to Super Bowl championships after the 2005 and 2008 seasons.
Heyward emphasized that he wasn't "throwing shade" at Roethlisberger, saying he was "explaining my side."
"Don't say Cam is calling out Ben -- it's not like that," Heyward said. "But I will say, I'll protect my team. I will make sure that everybody knows that we care only about football on the field and less about off the field. We can all understand Ben has been a heck of a QB. You don't do this game and become a Hall of Fame quarterback and do it at a low level.
"Ben has taken some hits not a lot of other teams could do. He saved us, he won games we weren't supposed to win, and he's always stepped up. But it was the team around him that helped him do it, and I don't want anyone to ever forget that the whole team won -- not just Ben."