Mike Tomlin was right: social media has turned the NFL into a 24-hour reality show, and George Pickens is the most recent member of the Pittsburgh Steelers to become the main character. Today, it seems like there’s a new ‘controversy’ every month, but let’s look back at the most scandalous Steelers social media moments.
2023: Diontae Johnson’s cryptic tweet
Steelers off-season content can get very thirsty, so when the team’s go-to receiver drops a cryptic tweet in the January wasteland, it can become front-page news. Two days after the 2022 season, Johnson tweeted this, leading to days of speculation on social media. The most cynical thought he was announcing a departure from Pittsburgh. Calvin Austin III would later explain that Johnson was talking about his own expectation on himself.
Ain gone say to much… but stay tuned— Diontae Johnson (@Juiceup__3) January 10, 2023
2021: JuJu Smith-Schuster’s milk crate challenge
It seems like a completely different lifetime, but it was only 26 and 1⁄2 months ago, when the most viral words in Pittsburgh were “JuJu milk crate.” Fans were outraged that he would risk injury just two weeks before the season. Purists were outraged that his stack was only 6 crates tall.
Juju doing the crate challenge pic.twitter.com/eXQp6MSr5N— Ahn Fire Digital (@AhnFireDigital) August 30, 2021
2021: Steven Nelson is a hostage
Nelson was scheduled to make $8.25 million in 2021, the final year of the contract he signed with Pittsburgh. But the Steelers were in cap-saving mode that off-season. Even after the departure of Mike Hilton, Pittsburgh was looking for a trade partner to deal Nelson. So Nelson took his case to Twitter. Less than one hour after posting it, the Steelers released him.
Making a public announcement is a little out of my character, but you guys made your decision please don’t hold me hostage #dontholdmeback— Steve Nelson (@Nelson_Island) March 23, 2021
2020: JuJu Smith-Schuster’s logo dances
When it came to NFL players, JuJu Smith-Schuster was an early adopter to TikTok. But the platform’s unique form of social media culture was not yet fluent with many fans or players. His weekly pre-game logo dances were interpreted as disrespectful, and they were starting to become a distraction. In the case of Cincinnati, they may have even been making him a target. Eventually Tomlin said he would talk to Smith-Schuster about the videos, and a day later, the receiver announced that they would end.
Juju's pregame logo dance became a massive talking point...— NFL UK (@NFLUK) February 20, 2021
it didn't end well pic.twitter.com/jQsSwq4LGk
2018: Chris Boswell quits Twitter
After signing a five-year deal, Boswell went on to have one of the worst kicking percentages out of all active kickers in 2018. He missed his seventh field goal of the season against New England, leading to a deluge of negative comments in his mentions. Plus, some were unearthing tweets from his past that included problematic language. So after the game, Boswell deleted his Twitter account, which has stayed inactive to this day.
2017: Martavis Bryant vs Sammie Coates
Never before had the social media friendly fire been so direct and sizzling hot. Pittsburgh had just drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster at pick 62. It created a crowded wide receivers room that already included Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Fans were thinking the same thing on social media, causing Bryant to post this Hall of Fame tweet.
It was the kind of tweet that forced Coach Tomlin to dust off the cobwebs and open the app himself.
2017: Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live
Locker room livestreams are commonplace today, but just a few years ago, it was uncharted territory. Antonio Brown quickly discovered where the line was in this new era, and proceeded to cross it. He captured Mike Tomlin using some choice words to describe the New England Patriots, earning Brown a rare public rebuke from his coach.
2014: Mike Mitchell’s social media ban
If you’re a public figure today, it’s probably best to have your mentions and DMs turned off. In 2014, athletes like safety Mike Mitchell were still learning that lesson. After a win on Monday Night Football, he started responding directly to his haters, matching and sometimes exceeding their vitriol. Reports back then said the incident caused the team to ask Mitchell to stay off of social media entirely.
2011: Rashard Mendenhall’s bin Laden rant
One of the appeals of Twitter has always been its ability to give fans access to the thoughts of public figures, even if they’re outside the mainstream. In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, Rashard Mendenhall shared some opinions that could have benefitted from better taste and timing. It forced Art Rooney II to release a statement, saying “it is hard to explain or even comprehend what he meant with his recent Twitter comments.”
Remember when they finally killed Osama bin Laden, and Mendenhall tried to act like we were in the wrong for celebrating his death? Don’t give this dude the time of day when it comes to his point of view about AB, and Ben ☕️ #Steelers pic.twitter.com/V1be7LpFDp— ZG (@zgoulden14) April 11, 2019
Social media and the NFL: it’s a full-time reality show that keeps the game going 24/7/365.