Once again, Mr. Big Chest has business boomin‘ in the NFL news world! As of Saturday, September 8th, nobody batted an eye that Julio Jones became the highest paid wide receiver in league history… EVERYONE is talking about the latest shocking revelations of the Antonio Brown saga with the Raiders, and how it has come to a dramatic and abrupt end. It is the saga of the most transcendent receiver talent of his generation, a hall-of-famer and a megalomaniac.
A.B. views himself as an icon and a brand. He is somewhat correct. His work ethic is unquestioned. His talent is generational. He styles himself in bold and eccentric ways that we’ve never seen. He works his tail off, posts his workouts and broadcasts his motivations all over social media. He believes that he is fighting for his freedom and for his principles. He is obviously hyper aware and hyper focused on all of the criticisms. So much so that he doesn’t see the full reality of his actions.
The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth–Antonio Brown on Twitter
It’s pretty easy to see him as clouded, crazy or selfish. There have been a great deal of memes calling him a clown for all of his antics (some hilarious). He has been painted as the great villain of this season so far. These takes may be justified… but I believe that he has made moves with his own best interests in mind, according to the leverage that his game-changing talent has afforded him.
Yes, Brown’s actions have been incredibly selfish when viewed through the prism of a team sport such as professional football. I won’t go so far as to call him a clown, but he has certainly been directing the circus. A.B. has been given too much leeway by two well-known player-friendly coaches in Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh and Jon Gruden in Oakland. This will not fly with Bill Belichick in New England. Brown will need to put his ego in check and go on chill mode.
Let me make this clear: this is not an article meant to defend or justify Antonio Brown and his out-sized actions. I want to take a deep look at the media’s treatment of him compared to other players, and furthermore, how the media is so good at telling us what we should pay attention to and care about.
I’m here to tell you (and began writing this point even before he got signed) that Antonio Brown will get his check and he will dominate this year. Bet that. We can call him whatever we want to, and make all of the memes (please do), but players have been given second chances after doing WAY worse things than A.B.! It is interesting to see the ways in which the media directs our attention, and almost dictates which topics we care about.
Reuben Foster was recently given a second chance after twice being accused of domestic violence and threats. Greg Hardy was told that he would get a second chance to play (although it didn’t end up happening) after being accused of threatening and throwing his girlfriend on a pile full of guns. Tyreek Hill was accused of breaking his son’s arm and was caught on audio recording telling his fiancé that she needed to be afraid of him. Heck, Ezekiel Elliott has been in trouble for multiple reasons, including exposing a woman’s breast without her consent on camera. There were apparently long-time cover-ups for Josh Brown and his domestic violence, as well as the whole Jerry Sandusky cover-up. These men deserved real punishment.
In a very telling sequence of events, Ray Rice was originally only suspended two games when news broke that he knocked his fiancé out cold with a punch to the head. When the video came out, that’s when the public outrage occurred, not before. Societal pressure and criticism are what caused the NFL to change their ruling, and indefinitely suspend Rice.
And so, we need to ask ourselves: how often is our anger and energy weaponized and channeled by the media and it’s agenda? I would argue that its quite often. Consider the Eurocentric nature of our international concerns and empathy.
When there is a tragedy or safety concern in a European country, we have Facebook filters and hashtags to support them. The media runs with these things with wall-to-wall coverage. That is great, empathy and concern for others is always a good thing. Selective empathy is not. When disaster strikes countries that are predominately black or latin, the same social media support or level of awareness doesn’t seem to be present. Why is that? Let’s pray for Paris… but can we also pray for Nigeria?? Why did we hear more about the Notre Dame Cathedral being partially burned (then restored by donations from millionaires) than the ongoing burning of the Amazon Rainforests?
Why did Michael Vick get a year and a half in jail and a two year suspension from the NFL for dog fighting (something that clearly should have been punished), while Donte Stallworth got less than a month in jail and a one year suspension from the NFL for DUI manslaughter? Even if you get yourself to a point where you believe that the legal ramifications fit each’s respective crimes, there’s still the issue of disparity in how there were mass protests over Vick ever getting a second chance in the league, and most don’t even know about Stallworth’s transgressions.
Again, Antonio Brown has acted selfishly, without regard to anyone but himself at times… but doesn’t that describe a lot of entertainers? His new team is not without it’s controversies, but they will hopefully help him to gain maturity and humility (hopefully). Do not pretend for a second that Brown has committed some heinous act for which he should be blackballed from the league. The same could be said of another notable former NFL star (whom the Jaguars need to call up):
We all need a villain in sports. That’s part of the beauty of fandom. Call Antonio Brown whatever you want, and root for his downfall if you would like… that is your sports right. I am not here to defend or denounce him. Moving on past his situation, let’s keep in mind that in the day and age of social pressure and viral stories, which topics are we being fed by the media? Which are we ignoring? How about we transfer some of our organized outrage to those who deserve it? And how about we start highlighting the positive instead of sensationalizing the negative?