The NFL’s CONTROVERSY du jour is that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown used Facebook to livestream head coach Mike Tomlin’s postgame speech after the team’s playoff win over the Chiefs. The video itself featured several coaches saying that the players shouldn’t use social media in the week ahead of their AFC championship matchup with the Patriots; they apparently didn’t know that they were literally being broadcast on social media as they warned players not to use it.
The fallout has been minor, but one-sided against Brown. Tomlin called his actions “selfish” and threatened to punish him. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he was “disappointed” in Brown. A New York Jets reporter wrote that Brown would “get into the Dingbat Hall of Fame on roller skates one day after exhibiting a rare blend of narcissism and dimwittedness.” The league is likely to fine him for breaking a rule against players using social media until after the players have fulfilled their obligation to meet with media. Bill Belichick professed a lack of awareness of the video, but used the opportunity to once again remind the world that he hates social media by referring to Facebook as “SnapFace.” (He has a history of intentionally flubbing the names of social media accounts to let everybody know how much he hates them.)
The most interesting thing about the video Brown filmed is how incredibly noncontroversial it is. I assumed a coach’s postgame speech after a tightly contested playoff win would be rowdy, fiery with a touch of brimstone. Instead, Tomlin stressed the seriousness of the upcoming week and cautioned the team against creating bulletin board material — the type of bulletin board material one might assume would come from an unauthorized locker room video. It was honestly stunning to see a coach deliver a private message that so closely resembled the sort of message he gives publicly. Some media outlets have pointed out that Tomlin referred to the Patriots as “assholes,” but in football circles, that’s basically a compliment. If you told Belichick that he’s an asshole, he’d probably say, “Thanks.”
It was a celebration for the swagless. It was the NFL equivalent of the video you send your parents from upstairs to let them know the house is in good shape while your buddies are throwing a rager downstairs.
Brown — who apparently has been paid by Facebook to promote Facebook Live — might be the NFL’s foremost expert at getting in trouble for completely harmless things. He famously gets fined for his touchdown dances and for wearing cleats that honor meaningful people in his life, from family members to the late Muhammad Ali. He’s the platonic ideal of the player to highlight the stupidity of the NFL’s insistence on conformity. He’s a dynamic player, wildly marketable, and doesn’t say, do, wear, or film things that offend people (unless you’re offended by butt-shaking). He should be celebrated rather than shunned.
Although the speech was boring, like a vice principal reading morning announcements over the loudspeaker, it was kinda exciting to feel like we were experiencing it with Brown. All he wants to do is score touchdowns, get paid, and have fun. Instead, he gets fined every time he wants to let us in on that fun.