Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward lashed out at the NFL on Wednesday for what he calls its hypocritical stance on player safety, arguing the league recently toughened its stance only because it wants to expand to an 18-game season.
Ward said there is considerable confusion among players about which hits are legal and which aren't since the league stepped up its policing of dangerous hits.
"The league doesn't care about us anyway," said Ward, a 13-year veteran and the leading receiver in Steelers history. "They don't care about the safety of the game. If the league was so concerned about the safety, why are you adding two more games on? You talk about you don't want players to drink ... and all you see is beer commercials. You don't want us to gamble, but then there are (NFL-endorsed lottery scratch-off games)."
The NFL is pushing for an expanded season during ongoing labor negotiations with the players' union.
Ward also predicted a team will lose a game -- possibly in the playoffs -- because an official makes an incorrect call out of fear of being disciplined by the league for not adhering to its new policy.
"It's going to change the outcome; somebody's going to lose a game because of it," Ward said. "It's going to be a huge play in a playoff game, somebody's going to hit a quarterback or do something, and the referee is going to be too scared to call it. So he's going to call it anyway so he can save his tail. He (the player) may not even get fined or not, but it will come down to the outcome of a ballgame."
Ward's comments reflect the growing anger among the players on one of the NFL's showcase franchises. The Steelers are becoming increasingly upset over the near-weekly fines levied on Harrison, a perceived lack of protection for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and hits that are fined and penalized one week but aren't subject to any penalty a week later.
"We don't know what the league wants. ... If a quarterback gets hit within the play, you can't hit him in the helmet, you can't hit him in the knees," Ward said. "Where can you hit a quarterback? I keep seeing our quarterback getting hit all the time."
Steelers linebacker James Farrior said the league has quickly become "the wild, wild West. We're on our own right now. There's no type of (predictable) regulation going on."
Farrior also said NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith hasn't properly supported the players on the issue.
Ward and several other Steelers argued the NFL wouldn't hesitate to fine a player who injured the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning or the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, yet did nothing when Roethlisberger appeared to be roughed up by the Buffalo Bills' Arthur Moats and Marcus Stroud after being sacked Sunday. Replays of the hit appear to show Moats twisting Roethlisberger's right leg while he is on the ground.
Neither player drew a penalty or fine. Roethlisberger, who injured his right knee and foot, wore a walking boot Wednesday, although he said he expects to play Sunday in Baltimore.
Despite the weekly confusion they're expressing, the Steelers won't change their playing style to adopt to the ever-shifting rules, according to Ward.
"We're going to keep playing the way we always have been playing," he said. "If they fine us, they fine us. It's football. I don't care what type of rules you do, you can't protect (against) the physicality of this game. It's always going to be a physical ballgame."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.