JuJu Smith-Schuster believes the culture in Pittsburgh has to change.
“I think everyone just has to stop being divas,” he said on ESPN on Thursday morning. “I think we need to stop being the Kardashians and just play ball.”
Smith-Schuster, who led the Steelers in both receptions and receiving yards in 2018, declined to drop any specific names. But he appeared to be referencing two stories involving offensive teammates that garnered significant media attention last season: Running back Le’Veon Bell’s holdout and wide receiver Antonio Brown’s absence at the end of the season.
“I’ve learned a lot in that locker room, and I know that I would never want to be the problem to any franchise,” Smith-Schuster said.
And he’s not alone. In an interview with USA TODAY’s Sports Pulse on Thursday, former Steelers wideout Hines Ward said he’s seen too many “shenanigans” in the franchise over the past few years — including, most recently, the situation with Brown. And he believes coach Mike Tomlin is to blame.
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“When we’re talking about the Steelers off the field more than we’re talking about the Steelers on the field, it’s a problem,” Ward said. “Remember those Cincinnati Bengals, when they were worried about the shenanigans with Ochocinco and TJ (Houshmandzadeh)? That’s who the Steelers are now.
“I just think the culture that Mike Tomlin has created, or that exists in Pittsburgh, that’s not the standard of the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
Ward referenced a few specific situations: Brown’s decision to broadcast a scene from the locker room on Facebook Live in 2017. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger criticizing teammates and coaches on his radio show. And Tomlin “kind of treating this player a little different” from others.
“Everybody has to be treated equally,” said Ward, who now works as an executive with the start-up Alliance of American Football. “Yes, I know Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell are superstars. But Tom Brady is still held to a higher standard. Tom Brady has a radio show — I’ve never heard him call out any players.”
As for Brown, Ward said he wouldn’t rule out a return to the Steelers — though failing to communicate with owner Art Rooney II certainly didn’t help.
“That’s probably one of the most important calls that you need to take,” Ward said. “You just don’t send Mr. Rooney to voicemail.”
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.