During Tuesday’s One Team Tour Tailgate Event in Pittsburgh there were a few current Steelers in attendance getting a chance to hang out with fans. One of the players was Steelers free safety Ryan Clark, and he was kind enough to take a couple of minutes and answer a few questions from yours truly. I knew I wasn’t going to have enough time to cover many topics, so I went with one of the biggest on-field issues between the league and the players this season: Big hits.
Me: One of the biggest topics in the NFL this season, and it’s kind of stolen the show, is the crackdown from the league on hits to the head and hits on defenseless players. It seems like a lot of people have tried to make one of your teammates, James Harrison, the poster child for this crackdown. Do you get the idea that the NFL wants to have it both ways? As has already been pointed out by others, the league loves to market the big hits, but it seems like they’re awfully quick to throw flags and hand out fines.
Ryan Clark: I think it’s part of why people like football. It’s part of why they watch. Because it’s physical, because it is a man’s game. It’s something that everybody can’t do week in and week out. I don’t know what the NFL is thinking whether they want it. I think the penalties and the way they’re being handed out and the bureaucracy it goes through, it’s just one guy. If you appeal, you appeal to the same guy that just gave you the fine. To make James the poster child of everything that’s been going wrong is wrong to me. He’s a guy that plays hard, he works hard, he’s worked his way from the bottom, been cut a couple of times, and he’s still here. So he’s the poster boy for everything that’s right in this league.
Me: How much of a fine line is there with all of this? On one hand, you do have to play the game hard, and it is a physical game. I mean, when you lay a hit on a guy like Wes Welker coming over the middle it fires people up, not just the fans but also the players. But, on the other hand, concern over long-term health of the players is also something that’s a legitimate concern. Is there a fine line to walk here?
Ryan Clark: I think the biggest thing about the Wes Welker hit, I didn’t hit his head. He had a concussion because his head hit to the ground. I didn’t go head to head on him or anything like that. I actually wasn’t fined for the hit. It’s a tough line to draw because the game has to be played at a certain level. You have to play the game hard or you put yourself at risk of injuries.
Me: If that hit would have happened this season after all of the uproar, do you think you would have been fined for it?
Ryan Clark: I’m not sure. But I’m making sure I’m not hitting guys that drop the ball, if I have time to see that they’re in a vulnerable position and they don’t have the ball I lay off of them. But other than that you play the game the same way. You play the game at high intensity and you play hard.
Me: You’re getting a chance to meet with a lot of fans tonight, but you’re also very active on Twitter, which has really changed the way fans, and even players, interact with one another. Do you enjoy being right at the finger tips of a fans rant at any given moment?
Ryan Clark: [laughs] It’s cool. You get cursed out a couple of times, people see say some rude things, but that’s OK. For the most part playing here with the Steelers is so positive. So many people are behind us. Just look at tonight. This is not a game, this is not an event where they can actually see football. But they’re still supporting us. I love being here and I love the social media and all of the interaction.
Me: Do the Steelers ever remind you to watch what you say on there, or do you have complete freedom to be as unfiltered as you like?
Ryan Clark: Nobody tells me anything because I probably wouldn’t listen anyway. I’m going to speak about what I want to speak about and right now I’m about this union and one team.