Antonio Brown should have apologized for being self-absorbed
Antonio Brown and his social media over-sharing gave us real locker room talk to debate in the lead-up to the AFC Championship game between his Steelers and the Patriots. Brown unwittingly recording Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin referring to the Patriots with a naughty word as he addressed his team following its playoff win over the Chiefs Sunday created the most detested of situations for a modern professional sports team: the dreaded Distraction.
Distractions are one of the most overused tropes in professional sports, usually used to shift responsibility for performance, suppress entertaining personality, and enforce conformity. The Steelers aren’t going to lose to the Patriots because Brown broadcast Tomlin referring to the Patriots in crude proctological terms. It’s more likely that Patriots coach Bill Belichick Snapchats from the sideline than the Steelers’ failure in Foxborough on Sunday is because of Brown’s stream of thoughtlessness.
Yet, Brown has issued both a Twitter apology and a verbal one centered around his regret for creating a distraction for Tomlin and his teammates. Right church, wrong pew.
He should be apologizing for being so self-absorbed that he couldn’t even be bothered to pay attention to the message Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger were delivering in addressing the Steelers as they pivoted toward preparing for their biggest game of the season.
That’s the real transgression. That’s the crime that fits Tomlin’s description of Brown’s actions as being “selfish” and “inconsiderate.” It’s what Roethlisberger expressed disappointment in during an interview with a Pittsburgh radio station.
“I wish AB would have been listening to Coach and myself instead of being on the other side of the locker room filming,” Roethlisberger told Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday.
If this speaks to the Steelers’ attention to detail, they’re doomed.
The worst part of Brown’s social media mishap wasn’t that he violated the sanctity of the locker room. His teammates didn’t seem to mind, as they made cameos. It was that he was so busy gazing into the social media mirror that he either didn’t know that his head coach was addressing the team or he didn’t care.
If Brown had been paying attention and realized that Tomlin and Roethlisberger were speaking to the team, it’s doubtful that he would have streamed it live for the masses. He’s too smart for that.
That’s why I laugh at the notion that Brown “broadcast” Tomlin’s coach-speak speech: “We just spotted these [expletive] a day and a half. They played yesterday. Our game got moved to tonight. We’re going to touch down at 4 o’clock in the [expletive] morning. So be it. We’ll be ready for their [butt]. But you ain’t got to tell them we’re coming.”
What Brown did was the social media equivalent of butt-dialing someone on your cellphone. It was sheer obliviousness. In Brown’s case, it was laced with narcissism.
“I absolutely regret the Facebook Live situation,” Brown told the media on Wednesday. “It’s a total distraction to the organization, a total distraction to my teammates, obviously disrespect to my coach. I’ve got the utmost respect to my coach, so I totally regret that.”
If you have the utmost respect for your coach, you’ll stop staring at your phone for two minutes and listen to his instructions. Brown unconvincingly claimed he shared the video because he was so excited about winning the divisional-round game after being forced to sit it out last season with an injury.
Sports is a business. Athletes need to cultivate their brand. However, there is a time and place for brand building; the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is paying Brown $244,000 to create Facebook Live content. This was neither the time nor the place for Brown.
Patriots fans have been quick to point out this type of thing wouldn’t happen under Belichick’s iron fist. That’s true because Patriots players know better than to not heed a message Belichick is delivering postgame.
Social media is now part of sports everywhere, and it’s not going anywhere. It just has to be used judiciously. Even the buttoned-up Patriots have embraced it.
Tom Brady and Julian Edelman are social media mavens. Brady just held a mock draft to announce he was joining Instagram. Patriots defensive end Chris Long is a great follow on Twitter. He is funny, witty, and thoughtful. The same goes for Devin McCourty. Both of them navigate the line between the Patriots’ party line and sharing their personality deftly.
On Thursday, Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett, another NFL extrovert extraordinaire, said Brown should send some followers his way because he has better content.
Social media platforms are here to stay, and hopefully so is Brown’s sense of on-field showmanship.
It has become popular to cite Brown’s fines this season for touchdown celebrations and shoe designs when discussing his Facebook Live faux pas.
Count me out of that. I’m all for NFL players expressing themselves and displaying a bit of creativity. Brown can twerk and gyrate all he wants in the end zone in my league.
If the folks in the league office weren’t so busy trying to crack down on any and all forms of individuality, they would realize we live in a cult of personality society. Brown’s displays help the league. They don’t harm it.
Brown has been fined three times this year for touchdown celebrations, including a ridiculous $24,309 for an innocuous-looking handshake routine with Le’Veon Bell in a Thanksgiving win over Indianapolis. It was the type of celebration you see all the time in NBA pregame introductions or a major league baseball dugout. He also was fined more than $9,000 for wearing shoes with baby blue as one of the primary colors in the season opener.
But these were venial infractions next to disregarding your coach to bask in the warm glow of social media adulation.
Being that distracted by your own self-aggrandizing interests is worse than creating a distraction.
Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.