Look no further than Ben Roethlisberger’s weekly radio spot on 93.7 the Fan to see the Streisand effect in practice. Roethlisberger, speaking about Antonio Brown’s sideline temper tantrum during Pittsburgh’s 26-9 win over Baltimore on Sunday, indicated that the incident was a “distraction that none of us need.” Thankfully, Roethlisberger preceded the aforementioned claim by clarifying that he was “not trying to call [Brown] out.”
Thank goodness he cleared that up.
First, we need some context. If you’ve been avoiding the Pittsburgh news cycle—and understandably committing your attention to more important matters (again, please go here to donate to the Las Vegas Victims fund)—Brown non-verbally told a Gatorade cooler exactly where it can stick its sugar-saturated electrolyte water and verbally accosted any human being within earshot after Roethlisberger failed to provide him with the easiest touchdown he’ll ever score. And in Brown’s defense, he has a point. On a 3rd-and-manageable in the second quarter of the Baltimore game, Brown found himself wide open after ghosting Jimmy Smith on pick route. Had Roethlisberger looked to Brown’s side of the field, Brown could have walked 65-yards to the end-zone.
Roethlisberger is a very, very good professional quarterback, but he’s not a robot, and real football is not Madden. He’s not gonna spot the open receiver on every play. Antonio Brown, meanwhile, is a professional football wide receiver, meaning that, to him, he’s wide open on every play. So when he doesn’t get the ball when he actually is open, that part of his brain regulating his emotions (the frontal lobe, for anyone who wants to win bar trivia someday) malfunctions and he spills tasty refreshments everywhere. Receivers want the ball.
And this is all fine and dandy. The Steelers did win, after all, so it seems very likely that Brown’s “outburst” probably would’ve been the kind of thing everyone laughed about later. Even if Brown’s antics did rustle a few jimmies, the unrustling of these jimmies probably could’ve been handled internally, which definitely would’ve mitigated any distractions.
Yet here we are—distracted. Should Brown have handled his displeasure with Roethlisberger’s pocket vision more tactfully? Yeah, probably. However, we’re missing the point by focusing on Brown. What does Roethlisberger gain from airing his vexations with Brown in a public forum? Remember, a sizable contingent of Steelers fans are actively annoyed by Brown’s touchdown celebrations and, less than a year ago, legitimate “trade Antonio Brown” comments entered the public lexicon following the now-infamous Facebook Live fiasco. So why vilify a player who is, by Roethlisberger’s own admission, one of the greatest receivers in NFL history?
Roethlisberger has done this before. Just this summer, he questioned whether Le’Veon Bell would be in football shape following Bell’s holdout. After Martavis Bryant’s 16-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy in 2016, Roethlisberger told reporters that Bryant “looked him in the eye and denied everything.” Months before that, he questioned Bryant’s toughness heading into the Steelers’ playoff matchup against Cincinnati. Following Pittsburgh’s loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game in January, Roethlisberger said that the game seemed “too big” for some of his younger teammates.
I expect that workplace politics matter in the NFL, just like they do everywhere else. In any vocation, the 14-year veteran sits high on the totem pole. And in Roethlisberger’s workplace, he’s been around even longer than the man in charge. Needless to say, his opinion carries weight, as it should. But if he truly desires to be a leader of men, he’s doing it all wrong.