Predictably, Antonio Brown’s name is in the headlines for an ill-timed social media gaffe, rather than for his performance in a winning effort in against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional playoffs. Hey, if it bleeds, it leads—that’s freshman-level, syllabus day journalism.
Brown, who is paid a hefty, undisclosed sum for using and promoting Facebook’s Live service, streamed an uncensored video of Pittsburgh’s post-game locker room that included numerous Mike Tomlin profanities and an unnamed player’s naked backside. Over the course of the 17-minute video, Brown broke numerous team and league rules and, worst of all, disrespected his coach and teammates by providing unprecedented access into one of the most exclusive venues in professional sports.
Tomlin called Brown “selfish,” among other things, during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took on the dad role and claimed he was “disappointed” in Brown during his weekly radio show.
Brown’s live-streaming mishap wasn’t the distraction Pittsburgh needed, especially heading into their most important - and most difficult - game of the season.
Maybe my millennial perspective has clouded my judgment regarding this matter, but this entire “controversy” seems a bit overblown. It’s 2017, and the NFL’s social media policy already seems a pretty outdated. This policy, which has remained mostly unchanged since its implementation in 2009, prohibits players from posting anything to social media beginning 90 minutes before kickoff until the conclusion of post-game interviews. This is going to shake some of your trees, but Antonio Brown is as much a brand as it is the name of an All-Pro football player. From his Pepsi commercials to his touchdown celebrations, Brown’s “antics” are ingrained into his persona. Like many players, Brown heavily engages other uses in the social media landscape to further cultivate that brand. Some of your grandmothers probably know Brown as “that handsome fella from “Dancing With the Stars.” Few players can boast such mass appeal.
Maybe I’m being naive, but I didn’t see Brown’s live stream as particularly selfish or malicious. Thoughtless, certainly. Poorly-timed and executed, for sure. But most of all, what I saw in that video was a dude who was living in the moment.
Brown obviously has irked his coach. Many fans are pretty ticked as well. Several of his teammates are probably mild annoyed, but certainly not to the point that would create some sort of internal rift or compromise Brown’s standing in the locker room. Keep in mind, this is the same Antonio Brown who famously outworks the vast majority of his co-workers. That work ethic, coupled with his God-given talent, has allowed Brown to transform from a sixth-round afterthought to a four-time All-Pro.
Now, please don’t mistake my words as an endorsement for future social media mishaps by Brown or anyone else. If Brown pulled this stunt 15 minutes later than he actually did, it wouldn’t have been a blip on the media’s radar. Heck, there’s a good chance that Tomlin would’ve made a cameo in Brown’s video, just as he’s done before. AB also is lucky that his initials stand for “Antonio Brown.” Just imagine if Zack Mettenberger had posted a similar video. His suitcase would’ve been waiting outside the stadium next to an Uber.
Brown will be punished, but not to the detriment of the Steelers. He definitely isn’t going to miss any plays this Sunday against New England. Likewise, I don’t foresee this unfortunate circumstance causing any issues down the road, and I fully expect the Steelers to offer Brown a sizable contract extension this off-season. What are they going to do, trade him? He’s the best receiver in the NFL and only 28 years old—the idea of parting ways with him for posting a video to Facebook is lunacy. The only real off-field news Brown has generated this season was a trip he made to the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he dropped off a $100,000 check just because he felt like it. As far as any actual bad stuff goes, the dude has a spotless record.
You live and you learn. If any team in the NFL is known for giving second and third chances to star players, it’s the Steelers. Brown doesn’t need a 300-yard receiving game against New England to win back the respect of fans, his teammates or his coaches. A sincere apology (and presumably a stern tongue-lashing from Mr. Tomlin) likely will suffice.