The Pittsburgh Steelers as should be the case with every NFL team, are increasingly aware of how significant a player’s social media usage can be. As social media continues to become more and more accepted as part of our mainstream everyday identities, people are using it more and more as they would any other tool, and are being judged accordingly based on how they present themselves.
Others use social media proactively when they have a point that they want to get across, or with some other objective in mind. How they handle their business can end up being an issue for the team that employs them, as was the case with Antonio Brown.
His social media contributions helped foster an atmosphere within the organization that led them to believe that trading him was the only viable alternative, though many factors were involved in that, including the wide receiver’s demand for more money.
While the Steelers, and particularly Head Coach Mike Tomlin, seemingly downplay social media whenever it’s brought up—even doing so most recently when he spoke to reporters last month during the annual league meeting—it is clearly something that they pay more heed to behind closed doors. And it’s something that General Manager Kevin Colbert talked about a bit more yesterday.
“I know sometimes there’s questions about the new generation and the social media aspect of things, and we try to monitor as much as we can with everything”, he told reporters. “We do extensive background checks. We do background checks, the league does background checks, the scouts talk to people”.
But the ultimate source for their evaluation on a player is within their own one-on-one interactions, which transcend all other avenues of information. “We might hear about a guy that just doesn’t have a great reputation and you sit down and talk to him and come away with a better feeling”, he said. “And the opposite’s true too. This guy comes in with a pristine character reference and we sit and say, ‘well I’m not so sure that adds up’. So that can go either way”.
When it comes to social media in particular, Colbert stressed that it’s more important than ever that prospects understand the nature of the beast as they make the transition from an amateur to a professional. “We have to be aware of it after we draft the players”, he said.
“Specifically how we’re going to manage them as they hopefully grow into the player you want them to grow into. We have to be ready for some of their challenges that they might not even be aware of as they turn into vets”.
Of course, if you ask Le’Veon Bell, he’ll tell you that the Steelers have long been critical of how a player uses social media. In his first interview since signing with the New York Jets, he said that Pittsburgh did not treat its players like people, individuals who were allowed to have their own personality and interests outside of their job.
Meanwhile, JuJu Smith-Schuster is literally a brand ambassador for a technology company focusing on competitive gaming, in which he actively participates. One of the things Bell specifically said the Steelers frowned upon was gaming.