What is it with Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh media and Steelers fans when it comes to wide receivers?
Hines Ward may have been a diva, some say. Santonio Holmes was often a diva. Mike Wallace was a diva for holding out. Emmanuel Sanders was a diva for how he handled free agency. Antonio Brown, well, he was a diva in so many ways.
While you can certainly make compelling arguments for each receiver listed above and his tendency to act like a diva, it was Brown, the man known as AB, the man who often called himself Ronald Ocean, the man who posted the Facebook Live video, drove down McKnight Road at breakneck speed, threw furniture off of a balcony and threatened to punch a few reporters, who I think may have given Steelers media members and fans PTSD when it comes to any receiver they come into contact with or even just see on a television screen.
Seriously, the media and fans spent the entire 2020 campaign practically prodding JuJu Smith-Schuster into displaying diva-like tendencies. Here was a man who should have been the face of the franchise, and all people could talk about was how offended they were that it seemed like he wanted to be the face of the franchise. Smith-Schuster SHOULD have been the new Mr. Steeler, the guy that was on all the billboards and in all the local commercials. His work in the community was enough of a reason, but his rising star status and brand recognition should have made it all a no-brainer.
It’s too bad too many people had their brains up their backsides. Instead of being celebrated, Smith-Schuster was scrutinized, especially in the latter portion of the 2020 campaign when he decided to dance on opposing logos and apparently angered the football gods to the point that they forced the Steelers to lose.
Fortunately for him, Smith-Schuster will likely be taking his community service and brand recognition, not to mention his exceptional football skills, to another city in a week or so once free agency kicks in.
But at least the Steelers media and fans will have another diva receiver to play with. His name is Chase Claypool. I’m aware that it’s probably bad journalistic form to wait this long to talk about the main subject of an article, but I just couldn’t bring myself to sully Claypool’s name right out of the gate. I had to warm up to it. After all, this is the guy who made us all love him during his rookie season when he caught 62 passes for 873 yards and nine touchdowns. A rookie campaign like that should have been enough to convince the Pittsburgh sports media to spend the entire offseason doing nothing but playing up Claypool’s talents, Canadian roots, the whole works.
But Claypool couldn’t even rely on the Steelers’ state-run website to do that for him, at least not their veteran writer, Bob Labriola, who posted a “preview” article on Monday about the Steelers receivers; sure, it was a preview of the Steelers receivers, but it might as well have been a helmet-to-helmet hit on Claypool in written form:
“Claypool didn’t need very long to establish himself as a difference-maker, as a receiver capable of making plays down the field, and he was the offense’s primary deep threat throughout the season. If there was a negative, it was that it seemed as though Claypool’s diva quotient increased consistently over the course of his rookie season. Whether that turns into a problem or comes to be viewed in the future as growing pains will develop over time.
In one way, the Steelers’ youthful experience at wide receiver can be viewed as an asset, especially since the team has salary cap issues and all of its best players at the position are still on their rookie contracts. But youth also can be synonymous with immaturity.”
Holy heck, Labs, you are aware that you’ll eventually have to be in the same room with these guys, again, right? And if you’re going to talk about a player’s diva quotient, shouldn’t you be totally transparent and explain exactly what you mean? What, are you trying to protect Claypool and shield him from media scrutiny? Too late for that. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk put the story on his site on Monday and created a huge buzz. Steelers inside, Gerry Dulac, sent a cryptic Tweet Florio’s way as a result: “Hey Mike, pay attention. He’s right.”
The Fan’s Colin Dunlap Tweet dissed Labriola: “More than anything Claypool has ever done, I find it far more “diva” that the author of this piece wears a Steelers Super Bowl ring (for being a website writer?) and lets fans on the road take pictures with it on. I mean .....”
And, of course, I’m writing this article, you know, to bait you into clicking.
Anyway, how did Claypool, a rookie who, again, should now be everyone’s favorite new Steeler, increase his diva quotient as the season went along? Did he sulk when he started to get targeted less at the end of the year? Did he disrespect his teammates? Did he disrespect reporters? Or was it his social media presence that was deemed to be too diva-like for many involved with the Steelers and those that cover and support them?
If it’s the last thing, hashtag grow up. If all it takes is a little brand development and an increased social media presence to turn a player—namely, a receiver—into a bad guy, I think we’ve really watered down what a jerk is in 2021.
If you’re nodding your head in agreement with the thoughts of Labriola and Dulac, and you’re waiting for the Steelers to finally employ a quiet and social media adverse receiver, you’ll be waiting for a long, long time.
Chase Claypool has all the makings of a star and someone who could become one of the biggest sports celebrities in Pittsburgh. Besides, it’s March. His rookie season just ended. Let’s not turn him into a bad guy before he gives us a reason to.