We have reached a point at which those who work directly for the Pittsburgh Steelers are referring to the Antonio Brown situation as “the Antonio Brown situation”. It’s far too public, and far too obvious, to sweep it under the rug at this point, which, according to the latest report from Jeremy Fowler, is what the Steelers and Head Coach Mike Tomlin have been doing for years.
While not revelatory, the ESPN writer’s latest piece paints a picture of a star player being treated as a star player—but only for such time that he remains a star player. That’s how the vast majority of NFL franchises operate. There is a tipping point between talent and tolerance, but every team’s, and coach’s, will be different. And the Steelers’ tipping point is toppling, with everybody taking the fall on this one.
Fowler quotes one former teammate of Brown’s recalling a story, which other players that he interviewed confirmed, in which Tomlin addressed the room after the wide receiver was late to a meeting.
The player said that Tomlin “essentially told the group, we’ll tolerate it now because of what he brings on the field, but the minute production stops, you don’t overlook it”. Of course, production hasn’t stopped, which is part of the issue. 104 catches for 1297 yards and 15 touchdowns isn’t something you jump at the chance of abandoning.
A number of current and former players that Fowler interviewed made at least one thing clear, which is that Brown was frequently late to meetings. That includes former teammate Chris Hubbard, one player who did speak on record, but who suggested that it wasn’t much of an issue.
The thing is, it’s impossible to build a coherent narrative through 20 different lenses. We have a myriad of accounts from players who had different relationships with Brown over the course of different periods of his career, and through that we see contradictions that can only be chalked up to interpretation.
Much of the evidence that Fowler notes from former players is of the variety of “I’ve never seen this happen”, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. One former player suggested that he’d never seen Brown fined, yet others noted that they believed yet were not sure that he had off-campus housing during training camp—yet nobody has been to this housing.
Still, there is plenty of smoke in this latest report on “the Antonio Brown situation” from Fowler, which largely jives with what we can safely piece together. Even current teammates who publicly voice their desire to see him stay with the team acknowledge that there is a problem, after all.
And it’s becoming increasingly clear that many people have been part of that problem, including Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger. That doesn’t exonerate Brown for his own conduct by any means, but nevertheless, when you piece it all together, the reality is that we are where we are because of the role that these agents have played over the course of…the situation.