Mike Mitchell is fed up.
On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers safety took to Twitter to rail on the NFL for suspending Cincinnati Bengals safety George Iloka for his hit on Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown (a suspension that was overturned) during Monday’s NFC North matchup that has drawn widespread criticism for what many deemed excessive violence and dirty play.
And that was Mitchell defending an opponent.
He kept it up on Wednesday in a locker room rant with the media defending himself and taking on all comers, including talking heads, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Bengals QB Andy Dalton.
He saved his sharpest barb for ESPN analyst and former NFL QB Matt Hasselbeck for calling him a dirty player. He did not filter his language.
“I got [expletives] like Matt Hasselbeck calling me a dirty player and trying my character, and we’ve never met before,” he told reporters Wednesday. “I donate more money to Cincinnati underprivileged kids than probably the people on the Bengals. So don’t give me that name. My nephew goes to school there. I take all that personally.”
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) December 6, 2017
He also sounded off on the criticism of football.
“I signed up to play full-speed contact football, and we’re not doing that, “Mitchell said. “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? And that’s crazy. I’m gonna mess around and get hurt trying to protect an offensive player because he’s running an over route.”
“It was really low from the backside,” Smith told ESPN. “I thought it was about as flagrant as it gets when it comes to a low hit on the quarterback.”
The hit drew a fine from the NFL, but it was dropped upon appeal.
That incident also appears to be the genesis of Mitchell’s beef with Hasselbeck.
“I was very frustrated with Alex [Smith] and people in the media,” Mitchell told NBC’s Michele Tafoya in response. “Matt Hasselbeck, we’re gonna have words next time we’re on. You don’t know me. And you call me a repeat offender? Two personal fouls over the past three years.”
While some find Mitchell’s point of view and brand of football draconian and dangerous, he gives voice to others who feel the game is under attack and that the violence on the field is a necessary part of the sport that participants have signed up for.
It’s an issue that wasn’t much of an issue, at least in conversation, until revelations over the physical toll football takes on players’ bodies, especially their brains, has come to light in recent years. Before the public heard of CTE, hits that now draw penalties and ire had prime spots in Sunday night highlight reels on ESPN.
Football is clearly at a reckoning. How the NFL and lower levels of football evolve, or don’t, will determine if the game continues to thrive or becomes a sport, much like boxing, that younger generations don’t want to play or watch.
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