On and off the field, NFL players live life under the microscope. Slug your fiance in an elevator? If there's a video of it, the whole world will see it. Make a comment about another quarterback's wife and female friends? Social media will talk about it for days, maybe even weeks. Take down a paper towel dispenser in a bathroom? That will be discussed for years.
Let's go back to preschool and play a round of One of these Things is not Like the Others. And, in case you were deprived of Sesame Street as a child, here is what I'm talking about:
Hint: In the video, the rain boot isn't quite like the others, and in the opening paragraph, Jeff Reed's act of frustration against an inanimate object isn't quite like the others either.
How is a paper towel dispenser like an attack in an elevator? If it's interesting to the public, it will be on the news. Over and over and over again. And, when it's not on the news, social media will have a field day. It doesn't matter if the infraction was danger to the public like driving while intoxicated or an incident that is interesting only because the person who did it is a celebrity.
Nobody knows this phenomenon better than former Pittsburgh Steelers placekicker Jeff Reed. He is best known as one of the most reliable placekickers in Steelers history. He is also known for outrageous antics, including the infamous Sheetz Bathroom Incident.
At the time, in 2009, the officer on the scene warned Reed the incident would attract attention. "He said, 'Jeff, everyone is going to be on the news,'" Reed shared. "By 6 am it was on the local news, then national." That was over six years ago, and it has become one of the most talked-about moments of Reed's career with the Steelers.
Let's all take a moment to remember Jeff reed assaulted a paper towel dispenser in sheetz in 09. And I was in that sheetz 6 days ago— Megan Moron-o (@MeggieLite) October 9, 2015
@SuckMeter I think Rodriguez needs to take some judo lessons from Jeff Reed. The dojo? Sheetz of course.— Matt Damiano (@mattdamiano) October 8, 2015
Steelers signing Jeff Reed would be great, especially for week 7 when they play the Sheetz Paper Towel Dispensers.— Matt McCloskey (@MMcClos) October 2, 2015
This incident has overshadowed his contributions to two Super Bowl Championships, 213 of 259 completed field goals, and place in Steelers history as the second-highest scoring player. Does this bother Reed? "Assumptions rule the world," he said.
In the case of Reed, the assumption has always been that he is an unstable, party boy. "Wild and crazy guy is fine with me," he disclosed. "Better than a dork that sits in the corner."
Reed does take issue with the other perceptions, however. "I don't want people to perceive me as some loser and drunk," he said. Reed has a different spin on his fun-loving demeanor. It helped him be a great kicker.
"You have to learn to have fun. If you take it too seriously, you won't play well. If I'm miserable or not a happy person," he explained "then that's going to reflect on my success in my job. When you strictly focus on one thing, then you usually fail. If you let things come to you, it's awesome."
Reed's sense of humor also made him a bigger part of the team. "Kickers are considered outcasts," he said. "I was the team clown, so I wasn't an outcast. That's the only way I could relax. I couldn't be too serious and focused on what I was doing wrong instead of what I was doing right."
Being recognized as an integral part of the team instead of an outcast also helped Reed with a major part of his job: Trust. "As a kicker, my job lies in the hands of 10 men ahead of me. All you can do is trust. I also had to trust myself," he explained.
In the 1.3 seconds it takes to do his job, Reed would have to block out a lot, including odd noises from the Ravens Ray Lewis in games against the Steelers AFC North rival. "It doesn't matter if the crowd was loud or quiet," he remembered. "You don't hear much more. Even when it is loud, you don't pay attention to it. There's a variety of other noises too. Ray Lewis always barked when I kicked. It was kind of like our friendship was built on him barking at me when I kicked field goals and extra points."
Reed enjoyed the fans and the Pittsburgh community as much as his time on the field. "I did every single charity event I could get my hands on," he said. "I wanted to interact with fans. I wanted fans to know who I was as a person."
Still, Reed feels misunderstood. "Of the millions of Steelers fans, 99% don't know me. They only see me as the media portrays me," he said. "That's what people remember the rest of their lives." While Steelers fans have an indelible memory of the Sheetz incident, Reed cherishes other memories of his time with the Steelers.
After the Super Bowl victory against the Arizona Cardinals in Tampa Bay at the end of the 2008 season, Reed remembers finding his parents in the crowd. Reed's father, mother, and sister ignored the ushers' warnings and jumped down into his arms. "The jumped from pretty high up," Reed admitted. "You don't get an opportunity to do that very often."
Though Reed helped win two Super Bowls, fans had little tolerance for mistakes. "I received death threats for missing a field goal," he said. "I've had reporters say they heard I was missing field goals on purpose." Though Reed remembers those hard times, he still thinks of the fans and his time with the Steelers very fondly. "The fans are unreal," he says. "They live and die by the sport, but man it's great to play for them."
Reed has been able to look beyond the frustrating times in Pittsburgh towards the end of his career. "I said a few things out of anger," he recalled. Still, he would return to the field in a heartbeat. "I could kick this week if I had to," Reed shared. "If for some reason God's going to give me another opportunity, I want to be ready."
Nonetheless, the Sheetz incident, crazy hairstyles, and other off-field antics seem to define Reed more than his kicking and love for the sport. Fans assume he is a party boy. There is a difference though between the fun-loving guy Reed considers himself to be and the meaning fans ascribe to incidents that have generated media attention.
As Reed says, assumptions rule the world. Maybe it's time fans revisit their assumptions about Jeff Reed.