Thanks to the social media rumors of him wanting to be traded, the social media realities of him throwing a teammate under the bus, and a media interview in which he told ESPN's Josina Anderson that he wouldn't mind an immediate trade if his role in the offense didn't improve, Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant has been deactivated for this Sunday night's game in Detroit.
After the last two incidents that followed Pittsburgh's 29-14 victory over the Bengals last Sunday—a second-straight win that was accompanied by the drama involving Bryant—one wondered what, if any, punishment head coach Mike Tomlin would hand down to the fourth-year receiver out of Clemson, who’s still working his way back after missing all of 2016 while serving a season-long drug suspension.
While immediately addressing the situation at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Tomlin put to bed the possibility of a trade by saying Bryant wasn't available for one. And if he wasn't available for a trade, this also likely meant he wasn't going to be cut, either.
As a fan of the Steelers, this made me happy. After all, it doesn’t take a genius to recall and appreciate the difference-maker Bryant was in both 2014 and 2015, when he caught a combined 76 passes and 14 touchdowns in only 21 games.
But I also knew that Bryant's coworkers, many of whom had quickly grown very fond of rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (the teammate Bryant dissed on social media) were probably expecting some sort of disciplinary action to be taken against Bryant.
So, while being deactivated with pay, along with a demotion to the scout team, isn't quite as severe as, say, a suspension without pay, it does send a clear message:
"This isn't your team, Martavis, this is our team (meaning the coaches and the other 52 players)."
I know you might say that, in expressing his frustrations about not getting the football, Bryant was simply behaving like most receivers throughout history.
As evidence of that, I give you this one-time exchange between a legendary former Steelers receiver and his legendary head coach:
"Well, John, we won the game yesterday, how do you feel?"
"To tell you the truth, Chuck, I'm a little pissed off."
"I only caught one pass."
"John, what would you rather have happen, winning the game or catching a bunch of passes?"
"Chuck, I'd like to think we could do both."
That exchange was between Hall of Fame receiver John Stallworth and Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Noll. It occurred one day during the 1979 season, after a victory, and while the team was working to win its fourth Super Bowl title in six years.
So it's not uncommon for any receiver, even a quiet receiver with a humble reputation, to feel extremely frustrated with not being used adequately.
But social media didn't exist in 1979, so this little exchange between John and Chuck wasn't brought to light until Stallworth recalled it on an America's Game episode more than three decades after the fact.
Secondly, it was John Stallworth, a future Hall of Famer, who was frustrated.
In other words, he had some cachet.
Which brings me to the comparisons between Bryant and superstar wideout—the very best in the game—Antonio Brown.
Yes, Brown has been known to throw a tantrum or two when he's not getting enough targets.
One only has to go back a few weeks, when, after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger failed to see him on a play on which he was wide-open, Brown went to the sidelines and tossed a Gatorade cooler in disgust.
"Well, why wasn't Brown disciplined?"—you might be asking.
First of all, a player losing it on the sidelines or getting into it with his teammates and coaches—these things happen all the time in the NFL. Remember the sideline exchange between Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien in 2011? If you watch the clip, you'll hear CBS color analyst Dan Dierdorf say that tempers flare up all the time on NFL sidelines. (This was a narrative that was rarely brought up during the week-long media-frenzy after Brown's sideline meltdown.)
"Yes, but speaking of social media, what about Brown's Facebook Live locker room fiasco following the divisional round victory over the Chiefs on January 15?"
OK, but it's Antonio Brown, a superstar.
Sure, he might sometimes be a pain in the butt, but when has Brown ever gotten into trouble off of the field? When has he failed to give 100 percent on the field? When has he not put in the work necessary to be the very best in the game?
Face it, Brown has a much longer leash on this team than just about anyone not named Roethlisberger. To quote Tomlin when asked about Brown's propensity for drawing 15-yard celebration penalties: "What do you want me to do, bench Antonio Brown?"
In addition to handing out discipline when necessary, Tomlin owes it to his players to give them the best chance to win.
Disciplining Brown, an All-Pro superstar, would hurt those chances significantly.
Benching Bryant, a twice-suspended receiver who’s proven nothing other than his potential, doesn't damage Pittsburgh's chances to win nearly as much.
So, while most receivers exhibit diva-like qualities, not all are allowed to act like divas.
Martavis Bryant is a receiver who has a long way to go before he's allowed to get away with even the slightest diva-like behavior.