At noon yesterday, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin addressed the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ by grabbing the narrative by the throat and speaking directly to the media about the Facebook live video taken by his star wide receiver, Antonio Brown, which has been the cause of such commotion in the past few days.
But more importantly, Tomlin was speaking directly to Brown in his message, as he so often does with his players, conveying messages to specific players or groups by speaking about them directly to the media during his press conferences, often in unprompted ways, in order to make a point, or to set a challenge.
And he certainly laid down the gauntlet for Brown yesterday in a way that perhaps he never has before, going so far as to evoke words such as “foolish”, “selfish”, and “inconsiderate” to describe the All-Pro’s decision-making process that led to him going live to the web in recording the locker room, including Tomlin’s confidential address to the team.
The first thing that he did in addressing Brown, after setting the table with the appropriate adjectives, was the draw a line between him and the rest of his teammates, and the organization. “We’ll punish him, but we won’t punish us”, he said, making it clear that this is all on his shoulders, and that he will bear the responsibility of rectifying the situation.
While he expressed confidence in his player’s ability “appropriately absorb” whatever punishment he may have coming to him, Tomlin dug deeper, and hit at the heart of the issue, which is Brown’s maturity. Tomlin has long been a head coach who subscribed to the basic belief that he is coaching a group of men, and made sure to treat them like men until they showed themselves to deserve less than that.
His comments directed at Brown certainly belie his true feelings, or at least the message that he believes that Brown needs to hear going forward. “He’s got to grow from this. He has to”, he said. “He works extremely hard, he’s extremely talented, and those things get minimized from incidents such as this”.
His phrasing at the end is deliberate, reminding that this is not the first maturity issue in his background, let alone in this season. “Such incidents such as this don’t help” in terms of maintaining his teammates’ trust and respect, and losing that is a very dangerous thing.
“In a nutshell, that’s going to be the gist of the conversation we have”, Tomlin said, after previously making clear that he hadn’t spoken with Brown yet. There is a reason that he laid out the bullet points of what Brown was going to hear from him for all the world to hear before he could hear it first from Tomlin’s mouth behind closed doors.
It was to send a message. To send a challenge. To send a warning. There have been too many incidents now for the topic not to be addressed. Brown is heading into a pivotal time in his career, on the verge of signing his biggest contract, and he needs to prove that he is going to be the ambassador of the brand that merits that sort of pay.