There is a commonly-held belief that it takes a great deal of fuel through criticism to drive oneself to greatness, particularly in a competitive environment such as professional sports. You feed off of the negativity and doubt directed toward you to push yourself to greater heights and achievements.
That is the approach that wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster takes when it comes to the negative criticism that he receives about how he chooses to conduct his life, and his businesses, and his brand — criticism that often extends to his play, whether related or not.
The lowlight of the previous season for him came when the Pittsburgh Steelers faced the Cincinnati Bengals for the second time. He had already been under scrutiny for his pre-game ritual, and then he was forced into a key fumble during a losing effort that just so happened to come from the player on the opposing side who suggested that he could stand to take a big hit.
“You’ve got to have that next play mentality. Lucky for us, we play every week, and that’s a good thing”, Smith-Schuster told CNN. “There’s a next practice or the next day where you come back, you get better. And that’s in the past. But all the bad and negativity, you just use as fuel to build more fire to the flame, and you can become better and just use that to motivate you honestly”.
Smith-Schuster caught nine of 13 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown a week later against the Indianapolis Colts in what would prove to be their final win of the season. Two weeks later, in the postseason, he caught 13 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown. He also caught another touchdown on six catches for 65 yards in the regular season finale.
“For everyone and all the young athletes who see this, you’re going to have bad days”, he said. “You’re going to have bad games. You have bad plays”.
But you move on. And you must also move on from the comments and criticism. You can learn from it, you can let it drive you to improve yourself, but you can’t get stick living in that one episode. And if you can use it to give yourself that extra push, all the better.
Smith-Schuster is entering a pivotal season this year following a disappointing free agency. He ended up re-signing with the Steelers on a one-year deal worth just $8 million, a year after posting 97 receptions for 831 yards and nine touchdowns.
He’s looking to show that he is still that dynamic player with big-play potential that he showed himself to be during his first two years in the league, after recording a season-long reception of just 31 yards in 2020. To that end, he expects to log more time on the outside this season in Matt Canada’s offense.