Pittsburgh Steelers fans let out a collective sigh Friday following reports that second-year wide receiver George Pickens was causing a raucous on social media. The all-knowing social media hall monitors noticed that Pickens had archived/deleted/whatever else you want to call it-ed all of his Steelers-related Instagram posts after a Week 9 outing that yielded precisely -1 yards on Thursday Night Football, unfollowing the team, Head Coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Kenny Pickett, too, for good measure.
I’ll admit it; even I rolled my eyes when I saw the story pop. Fans were quick to voice their displeasure about the “antics,” fueling the discourse that Pickens’ immaturity is a distraction for the team, giving flashbacks of Antonio Brown's days.
After the news broke of the Instagram antics, clips of Diontae Johnson’s Week 9 touchdown started to circulate... with commentary in particular on Pickens, who jogged off the field while some members of the team celebrated Johnson’s first score dating back to the 2021 season. Unsurprisingly, more discourse on Pickens’ maturity level ensued.
Again. I rolled my eyes. Why can’t this kid get his emotions under control?
That’s when it hit me. Why can’t this kid get his emotions under control? Probably because he’s 22 years old. He’s... a kid.
Suddenly, I was transported back to my days as a 22-year-old. I was a baby, fresh out of nursing school, having just started my first real job. Emotions were high. Every problem felt like it could be the end of the world or the beginning of my “phoenix rising from the ashes” story. There were so many ups, and many, many more downs, and I’ll be honest — I’m sure as hell glad I wasn’t under the microscope that these kids are under because I’m not sure my lows would have been any prettier.
Maybe, just maybe, is it possible that we’re setting our expectations too high for this 22-year-old kid?
I’m not arguing that Pickens doesn’t bear responsibility for his actions. Yes, you’d like to see him celebrating with a teammate. Yes, you’d prefer he doesn’t unfollow his head coach after a couple of frustrating outings. I just don’t think we’re affording him the same kind of grace and opportunity to learn from those mistakes as I was coming into my own adulthood. Who among us didn’t have moments of irrational emotion at the age of 22? Who among us didn’t have moments of stupidity and selfishness that make you absolutely cringe to this very day? I know I did. Thankfully, my family, friends and mentors understood that I was just 22 years old and gifted me the opportunity to learn from my weakest (and most vulnerable) moments.
The counterpoint many will offer to this particular argument is that these kids know what they’re getting themselves into. “They signed up for this,” they shout as they shake their fists at the sky! In reality, this kid (and all of the other “kids” in the league) signed up to play football. Not only is their every move on the field and press conference quote critiqued by every analyst with a microphone or a keyboard... but so are their personal lives and personal habits in a way that couldn’t be done before the age of social media. With that comes a type of pressure that those in previous eras of the league could never understand.
Again, I’d like to reiterate that I’m not backing Pickens for what can only be described as sheer immaturity. I’m just here to say that I was pretty immature at the age of 22, too. And so were many of the people so quick to critique Pickens and roll their eyes. Maybe we can afford to extend him the same grace most of us were gifted.
It’s worth noting that at the time of this writing, Pickens has republished at least some of the posts he previously hid, donning his Steelers uniform in all but two of his active posts — one of which is a highlight reel from his Georgia days. He hasn’t yet refollowed the Steelers, Kenny Pickett or Mike Tomlin. But hey — baby steps.