DeAngelo Williams is very active on social media - particularly in regards to his family and his tremendous work in the fight against breast cancer. In my opinion, he's a pretty fun guy to follow online. His tweets and Facebook posts are funny, but some of his more recent activity has drawn some mixed reactions. First, he tweeted about Peyton Manning's 2015 season which led to many negative reactions from all over the NFL. Then, he entered a twitter argument with Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Shortly after that, he posted a video with former teammate Browns tight end Gary Barnidge. What does all of this mean for Williams?
On 7th March, Williams tweeted:
Look Peyton is a hall of fame qb who couldn't play dead in a western last year but career over all is astonishing but last year was— DeAngelo Williams (@DeAngeloRB) March 7, 2016
The issue is not about whether or not this tweet is correct or justified -- it is widely agreed that Manning did have a sub-par season. The issue here is professionalism.
Now, I am all for freedom of speech, in fact I think that Williams has a right to have his opinion on Twitter. I am not going into whether or not this tweet is justified or not. However, this will not reflect well on Williams. This is for two reasons. First, did Williams have to go this far with his comments? Certainly not. Again, it is widely regarded that Manning was not up to his previous quality. This does not mean that saying he "couldn't play dead in a western last year" is the best way to go about this. I actually agree that Manning's sparkling reputation should be taken with a pinch of salt, mostly because of the alleged HGH abuse and alleged sexual assault case - it feels that he is being afforded sympathy that other players (Johhny Manziel, Greg Hardy, even Martavis Bryant) are not. This does not mean it gives Williams the right to be so forthright with his comments.
And Mike Tomlin seems to agree with me. He responded to Williams' comments after four months of inactivity on Twitter with:
This shows that Tomlin, and the Steelers organization as a whole, do not appreciate Williams' comments.
On April 7th, Williams decided he would cultivate some more controversy on twitter again, this time aimed at Vontaze Burfict. Sparks flew when Williams accused Burfict's hit on Brown, and subsequent concussion, as costing the Steelers their following playoff game against the Broncos. Burfict's response was to demean Williams due to his position as a backup running back. Williams returned with an accusation that Burfict cost the Bengals their game against the Steelers with penalties he incurred.
The first question that comes to my head here is this - points made in their debate aside, why couldn't this conversation have been done as private messages? It is also worth noting that this is less of a controversial issue than Williams' comments on Manning, being as there is no love lost between the Steelers and the Bengals, as the game they are discussing shows. Regardless, it definitely feels that Williams is trying to cultivate some kind of social media presence and following.
Finally, not long after the Twitter fracas with Burfict, Williams posted a video of himself and former Carolina teammate Gary Barnidge having fun in a kid's play park with the tagline "Who says two rivals can't come together..." .
Now, this feels like it might be in response to the reaction to the Burfict argument - saying that he's not finding fault with Burfict over a petty rivalry, but because he actually believes what he said about Brown's concussion. If so, that is a strangely political statement made by an NFL player, assuming that there is no ulterior motive Williams' recent social media activity.
Considering these three cases, it could be said Williams is attempting to bring attention upon himself. All things considered, Williams is approaching retirement age and has one season left on his contract with Pittsburgh. It is entirely possible that he is attempting to cultivate attention and followers to help him get work following retirement. Since he is being so vocal on social media, it is not likely that this would be in some kind of coaching capacity -- this due to the fact that he could rustle some feathers with his comments with different teams. It is more likely Williams is looking to do some kind of football pundit work.
How does all of this reflect on the Pittsburgh Steelers? Not amazingly, but not near as much as a criminal record would tarnish the brand. I can't see much of a reaction to this other than something akin to a more formal scolding than Tomlin's tweet. Clearly, the organisation doesn't like what Williams is doing, but I can't see it being a big deal.
Ultimately, Williams is actively bringing attention to himself, whether by simply being himself (which is entirely possible) or for his own ends. If this is all a bid for work after retirement, I actually find it quite commendable -- he's being proactive about his life off the pitch, and that kind of foresight is something to respect. Whether or not you think his comments are right, and whether or not you think that this is the right way to get what he wants, you have to respect his proactive approach to life. As well as that, although this may not give the best impression of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it's actually fun to follow this guy online, his posts are fun, his pictures of his kids are pretty cute, and his work to fight against cancer is amazing.
Finally, freedom of speech is a thing that exists, and all he is doing is using his right to express himself. What he is doing is finding a way to express himself, as long as he doesn't upset the wrong people with the Pittsburgh Steelers head office, he has a right to do just that.