Antonio Brown spoke to the media before our first minicamp practice. pic.twitter.com/mfgq73w1cy— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 12, 2018
If your current situation isn’t conducive to watching movies, the Tweet-length summary of the above-embedded video is that Antonio Brown is pretty well vexed by the chronic, undeviating attention paid to him by the Pittsburgh media. This is understandable! As I’m sure those of you who live in and around Pittsburgh can attest, a sizable contingent of our local sports media is very critical, very poisonous, and very much set in their ways. (I’ll refrain from naming names, but anyone within 50 miles of Pittsburgh who’s picked up a newspaper, watched the local news, or (gasp!) listened to talk radio can probably draw their own conclusions.) But scalding-hot sports takes are valuable currency in these here parts, and the reporters are the merchants; so, if the best offensive player on the team indicates that the second-best offensive player on the team ought to show up for practice, or if the best offensive player on the team posts some potentially contentious and vaguely confrontational stuff about a former coach on Instagram, or if the best offensive player on the team, in a fit of frustration, Bobby-Knights a water cooler, they’d be mad not to write about it.
Now, this is the part where I’ll pause to indicate that a) the local reporters and sports personalities—or whatever kind of sobriquet they prefer (I don’t get paid to know these things)—are, for the most part, just doing their jobs and b) Brown is a professional football athlete who’s been playing the game long enough to know full well how this whole media thing works. Despite what the Penguins may have led you to believe, the Steelers are still the biggest show in town, so any news offering the community a glimpse into the general goings-on surrounding the team or, in the case of Brown, into the life of a legitimate NFL superstar and household name, will be consumed with ravenous and insatiable hunger.
I would argue that Brown has largely been a Company Man, more or less playing along with the media proceedings and adhering to a script that contains overtures of both organic straightforwardness and tightly-regulated PR-speak. This despite a few of what might be characterized as “slip-ups” (e.g. the aforementioned water-flipping tantrum against Baltimore, the Facebook Live fiasco during the 2016 playoffs, and that time he skipped a few practices because he was ostensibly irked about his contract). But Tuesday’s overly verbose—let’s call it a diatribe—portrayed Brown in a light we haven’t seen to this point. He was visibly frustrated and completely exasperated, as if, in that particular moment, he decided to unfurl eight years of pent up anger and indignation.
Included in Brown’s stream of consciousness—which clocked in at more than seven-and-a-half minutes—was the implication that NFL players are not “free” to speak their minds or cultivate individualized personas. This is a good point! In Roger Goodell’s wettest dream, I imagine his ideal version of the NFL would be a self-contained autocracy, a league in which players and coaches are all soulless, insipid stiffs, and where politics and activism are outlawed entirely, nobody questions why former players keep committing suicide, and owners rake in mountains of capital. In his opinion, Brown has felt like a prisoner to these constraints. While he’s emerged as a volcanic, dynamic, once-in-a-lifetime talent on the field, he’s been a relatively anonymous figure off of it, especially when compared to some other contemporary (ahem) “big personalities” like Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, and Odell Beckham Jr. When Brown’s “personality” has shone through, he’s been criticized or told to grow up. I keep referencing the water cooler thing because it’s an easy target, but that entire calamity yielded an unrelenting bounty of thermonuclear takes about Brown’s temperament and maturity and whatever else, but precisely zero takes about Ben Roethlisberger failing to notice what would’ve been the easiest touchdown of his career. An even easier target would be Brown’s social media presence, which I suppose could invite the ”he’s brought this upon himself” argument since Brown is very active on Twitter and Instagram and he does post links to the very same workouts that he believes are overly publicized (this latter point is bogus, by the way, since working out in private and posting it on Snapchat is completely different than working out and having a bunch of fans and media people mulling about). I vaguely recall someone on this very website declaring that the Steelers should ban their players from using social media—that’s the exact kind of sentiment Brown is hoping to avoid.
The fact that Brown’s comments are going to lead to a vast catalog of news stories and think-pieces (including this one) proves his point. But at the moment, I’m not sure if Brown’s “rant” has done anything to tangibly alter the AB paradigm. Make no mistake, it would be so, so neat if Brown pulled back the reins on some of the lessons that Pittsburgh’s award-winning public relations team bestowed upon him and instead incorporated some reckless and breezy indifference into his routine when addressing the media. Be free, Antonio. Care less what they all think.
The mostly likely outcome is that Brown’s coaches and veteran teammates and maybe even some front office personnel will have some sort of sit-down with Brown in an attempt to placate his frustration. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy yet another drama-free summer here in the Steel City -___-