Antonio Brown: NFL Pros, Self Value, And Lessons Learned From NBA Stars

Times are changing and ownership will have to revamp the old school way that they managed players of the past.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ tumultuous relationship with its superstar players has hit a new low as wide receiver Antonio Brown says he wants out of Pittsburgh. According to reports, the 30-year-old Pro Bowler has formally asked the Steelers for a trade, the latest move in a game of strong-arm chess designed to force Pittsburgh to move him by the start of training camp this summer.

Brown’s request comes on the heels of star running back Le’Veon Bell failing to report to training camp and never playing one down this entire season with Pittsburgh while holding out for more scratch. Many of Bell’s teammates criticized him for the move, but Brown wasn’t one of them and he wasn’t a fan of how it went down.  

Brown’s post came shortly after Brown was found guilty in absence on a charge of reckless driving in a suburban Pittsburgh court on Tuesday morning. Brown was charged in November for driving his black sports car over 100 mph in a 45 mph zone.  He paid a fine and kept it moving.

Brown, who still has three years remaining on a $72 million contract he signed in 2017, hasn’t been the same and has grown increasingly erratic since the Bell saga dominated a large portion of the Steelers’ season.

In addition to his 100 mph ride through the suburbs, there’s the pending civil lawsuit in Florida claiming he hurled objects from the 14th floor of an apartment building that almost hit a toddler and he threat towards an ESPN reporter through social media.

Brown’s relationship with the team hit rock bottom against Cincinnati in Week 17.  Brown left the facility with an apparent leg injury on Friday before the game and didn’t update HC Mike Tomlin on his availability to play until Sunday, through his agent Drew Rosenhaus.

Tomlin listed Brown as inactive and that set off a chain of events that resulted in Brown not showing up to conduct his exit interview and going MIA as rumors swirl about a possible trade to the San Francisco 49ers among other teams.

You never want a talent like Brown to just walk out the door and with his bulky contract, it will be hard to work out a trade that would be proper compensation for the game’s best wide receiver.

What we see is another example of an African-American pro athlete using the temporary leverage he has as a superstar in his prime to create the most favorable situation for himself.

NBA dudes are trying to force trades every day now. The new era of player empowerment is here. Superstars are now holding as much power over their future as owners.

The NFL’s player empowerment began with Colin Kaepernick and despite his blackballing, the spirit of his moment revealed everything bad about NFL ownership and the way they value their players. This has inspired a new understanding of power.

Experiencing Trump’s attacks, disrespect by the owners and racist fan reactions have changed these players forever.  The way retired NFL vets have to scrape and scratch for proper health care is in the back of the minds of today’s superstars. They refuse to be used and spit out without proper financial compensation and basic respect.

Odell Beckham let the Giants know that he was getting the bag or they would have had to trade him. Le’Veon Bell and now, Antonio Brown, are also exercising their rights as prolific performers to dictate their own terms.

It’s a new phenomenon that owners are going to have to get used to. The real ownership power still lies in the hands of white men, but the current African-American players are business affluent, striking while the iron is hot and know that holding all the cards is now the game plan.

The sports world is already torn on the situation. Fans of opposing teams are ecstatic dreaming of scenarios in which Brown would become a part of their offense and bring his 104 catches and franchise-record 15 TDs into the fold.

Steelers fans want Pittsburgh to continue to just deal with Brown’s diva antics because the production he provides outweighs all of his egotistical follies. They couldn’t imagine life without Brown.

But let Brown tell it, and they might have to. In AB’s eyes, the relationship with the Black and Yellow is irreconcilable. Fans can blame Brown for getting paid, but this situation reflects poorly on Tomlin and his deteriorating relationship with his two-star players. It also weakened the belief that the Pittsburgh brass has been the most progressive, socially conscious and player friendly ownership in the league.

Times are changing and ownership will have to revamp the old school way that they managed players of the past. Antonio Brown’s Pittsburgh journey and abrupt trade demand is another supporting example of this culture shift in sports. 

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.