The headlines have universally read as something to the effect of: “Mike Tomlin caught referring to Patriots as ‘a--holes’ by Antonio Brown on Facebook Live.” But the most revealing aspect of Antonio Brown’s voyeuristic Facebook Live in the Steelers locker room after they field-goal kicked their way to the AFC Championship Sunday was not Mike Tomlin’s language.
Call me jaded, but the only shocking thing was that Tomlin didn’t opt for a stronger moniker—like something with the letters “m” and “f” or even worse. Most teams inherently dislike the Patriots—you know, the too-much winning, the stigma of cheating—but the Steelers abhor them. Also, here’s a news flash: In the NFL, profanity is a far more spoken language than grammatical English.
Brown’s video also caught a teammate butt naked. Literally. It was his backside but it easily could have been his front. In no way was that teammate posing for the camera. Brown owes him a major apology. But his teammate’s posterior was also not the most revealing portion of the video, crazy as that may seem.
There was a moment during Tomlin’s now-infamous speech when he was riffing off advice on how to handle championship week. After generic offerings like keeping a low profile and staying focused, Tomlin literally said “be cool on social media.” What did Brown do? He simultaneously continued to violate privacy and presumably team rules, standing away from his huddled teammates and preening for the camera as if he was a show horse trying to get purchased. Did he not hear his coach? His boss? It was honestly inexplicable.
Any semblance of brainpower vanished from Brown’s head during those minutes on Facebook Live—instead his attention was solely focused on his number of viewers. How many times did he let a teammate know, “We’re at 44k!” Most teammates reacted with some quick dance to also show off for the camera or a half-hearted smile of appeasement that screamed, “Yeah, AB you just said that ten seconds ago” and got on with their business. But Brown was transfixed.
It was a telling lens into the instant gratification of social media, especially for a celebrity. I’m not sure how long Brown intended on rolling (wild guess: he didn’t have much of a game plan) but the massive viewership clearly fueled him in the moment. Anyone on social media can relate to an extent. You send out a questionable tweet that should get attention because it’s a salient point or maybe it’s incredibly obvious and will get crickets. Turns out people like it. It gets shared en masse. You feel a boost of empowerment. I mean, if random strangers think you’re poignant, obviously you are, right?
When hosting a Facebook Live, you literally see hearts traveling horizontally across the screen in real time. Therefore, Brown must have had a lovefest for the ages keeping him in his own bubble of me, myself and I.
Except all the rest of the world so intoxicated by social media didn’t just advance to the AFC Championship. They didn’t shun a coach giving a mini motivational speech. They didn’t violate the privacy of their teammates. Imagine Julio Jones doing that in Atlanta, or any player under Bill Belichick’s watch, or any player under Tomlin’s watch or any watch at all.
If Brown were a scrub he might be subject to a release; yet, like everything in the NFL, his talent is his salvation. Hopefully Tomlin gives him an incredibly stern talking to at bare minimum. If I were Tomlin I’d banish my star receiver from social media for the remainder of the postseason. Given Brown’s obsession, that would be felt far more than some fine.
Brown is an absolutely incredible talent, maybe a generational one. He’s shown it in the playoffs as much as he has during the regular season. What’s he’s also shown is an utter lack of leadership, smarts and especially self-awareness.