Antonio Brown’s fame is arguably as much a result of his social media savvy as it is his football skill.
The all-star receiver’s contentious but commanding relationship with the platforms began in 2017, when he live-streamed a victory speech from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ locker room on Facebook. In late 2018, he took to Twitter to demand his release from that team, and this week he posted a letter on Instagram from Oakland Raiders manager Mike Mayock documenting the fines he owed for missing preseason practices.
But perhaps most memorable are two YouTube videos shot by a 25-year-old filmmaker from Miami that debuted this weekend amid Brown’s swift release from the Raiders and his signing with the New England Patriots.
The filmmaker, Alejandro Narciso, maintains he showed up in Los Angeles early last week simply to follow Brown ahead of the Raiders’ Monday night season opener. A month prior, the duo had collaborated in a video hyping Brown’s preseason workouts in Oakland. But Narciso’s focus shifted after eavesdropping on a call between Raiders coach Jon Gruden and Brown in the middle of last week. He recorded the conversation and then combined it with the score from the Oscar-winning film “Moonlight” to create a viral drama worthy of acclaim.
“You’re the most misunderstood [expletive] human being in my entire life that I’ve ever met. I mean, I brought you here because you’re my favorite guy,” Gruden says in the video as the violin crescendos. “There’s a lot of people that have an opinion about you, and whether it’d be good or bad, you’re in the spotlight all the time. Let me ask you this, do you want to be a Raider or not?”
Brown says he does.
Gruden issues a concerned recommendation: “Please stop this [expletive] and just play football. How hard is that? You’re a great football player. Just play football.”
But Narciso’s filmmaking, paired with a score from a film that explores the contours of black identity, suggests that Brown’s fed up with being valued for solely his skill and statistics.
“I’m more than just a football player, man. I’m a real person,” Brown’s voice almost pleads while a montage of his kids plays on screen. “It ain’t about the football. I know I can do that. I show you guys that on the daily. This is my life. Ain’t no more games.”
Brown, standing in a swimming pool, then falls backward into the water, and the camera pans up to the sky in direct imitation of perhaps the most iconic scene from director Barry Jenkins’s coming-of-age masterpiece. The score, composed by Nicholas Britell, comes to a haunting halt.
Drawing a parallel between an irascible NFL superstar and “Moonlight,” the revolutionary tale of a gay black boy from the Miami projects, might seem like a stretch. But Jenkins and Brown have an unlikely bond in the form of Liberty City, the predominantly black and impoverished Miami neighborhood in which they grew up and from which they landed on the biggest stages in film and football.
Jenkins could not be reached for comment Monday but appeared to give a ringing endorsement of Brown’s video on Twitter.
“Wait . . . WHAT?!?!?!??!?!” he wrote. “Given that we both from the crib I have absolutely NO problems with this.”
Surprisingly, the video’s other star — and arguably its antagonist — Jon Gruden also approved. Brown sent the finished product to his soon-to-be-former coach, who responded that he “loved it,” Narciso said. California is a two-party consent state, which means it is a crime to record a telephone call without consent from all parties in the conversation.
“After that, we just let it fly,” Narciso said of the video posted Thursday night.
Saturday signaled the death knell for Brown’s fleeting time as a Raider. He took to social media to request a trade from his team for the second time in his career. Almost a year ago, he’d challenged the Steelers to trade him in a now-deleted tweet. On Saturday morning, he asked for his release from Oakland in an Instagram post featuring the quote: “You’re gonna piss a lot of people off when you start doing what’s best for you.”
The Raiders did just that. Brown was reportedly joining the Patriots by sundown.
Another video surfaced on Brown’s YouTube channel that Saturday afternoon. The 49-second clip is a far cry from its nuanced and manicured “Moonlight”-inspired predecessor. Gone is the throbbing score and subtle poignancy. Instead, a shirtless Brown bolts outdoors and runs a hook in his yard while laughing wildly. He flaps his arms like a soaring bird and screams, “I’m free! Fly like an eagle!” Add pads and an end zone and you’d think the wide receiver was celebrating a Super Bowl touchdown.
Narciso claims the reaction was candid. He and Brown had just emerged from the sauna when he opened his phone to a text from his girlfriend about Brown’s release from the Raiders. The filmmaker fired up his camera and told Brown the news.
“He said ‘What? You’re lying,’ ” the young filmmaker said. “He checked Twitter, then started running around. I was chasing him with one hand on my towel. If it was staged, I would have worn shorts at least.”
With 2.3 million and 1.6 million views respectively, the two videos instantly dwarfed the 188,000 average views typical of Brown’s four dozen other videos on the channel.
Narciso’s business partner, Christian Diaz, said the duo recognizes their partnership with Brown will probably be different under the Patriots. (Just imagine Bill Belichick agreeing to star in a player’s viral YouTube drama.)
“Obviously, the Patriots are very private. We don’t want to interfere with that. But we have some plans up our sleeve that hopefully down the road we can execute,” said the 25-year-old Diaz, who runs the production company SLDN Creative alongside Narciso.
As ever, mum is the word with Belichick when it comes to Brown. He refused to speak about the receiver during a press conference after the Patriots thrashed the Steelers in the Sunday night season opener. And in customary fashion, Belichick gave bland boilerplate answers to questions about Brown during his Monday interview on WEEI.
But former Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss seemed to echo the sentiment Gruden expressed in the now-famous taped call.
“Every time in the last month or two that Antonio Brown has shown up on your phone or any server, it has nothing to do with football. The next time I see Antonio Brown showing up on my phone, it’s gotta be a touchdown,” Moss said on ESPN’s “NFL Countdown” Sunday morning show, tossing his pen for emphasis. “That’s all I want to hear from here on out. Football, football, football!”
Brown did not react well to such narrow expectations the first time around.