Will the real Antonio Brown please stand up? (Observations from the Edge, with the Courier's Lee Kann)


Normally, I do not indulge in such colloquy as the life and times of so and so, or him or her, or those and them.  And rarely do I ponder on the coming and goings of an athlete. There is a multitude of people at this broadsheet and elsewhere more adept and in the know than I.  But in the realm of wonderment, where I usually dwell, I keep asking myself…who is the real Antonio Brown?

I’ve seen the early side of him, speaking in hushed tones…in a space of tranquility, if you will. Recently, it’s been replaced with an appetite for glister and glam.

Here in the press box, I see the same friendly faces game after game, and I hear the hub-bub and chit-chat about 30 year-old Antonio Tavaris Brown of Miami, Florida.  Often sitting next to me is “Bo” from Youngstown.  Bobo (as I call him), a scout for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League, is as astounded as I at the arresting aptitude of Antonio Brown. We have been interviewing Brown postgame since he came to the land of Steel as a lowly sixth-round draft pick out of Central Michigan. Taken 195th overall in 2010, I’m not sure there was a whole lot of Steeler expectation of the guy. Of course, New England drafting Tom Brady 199th in the sixth round in 2000 did not seem overwhelmingly urgent, either.

As Brown emerged from rookie punt returner to doyen wide receiver—doing the things that seemingly only Brown can do—Bobo and I looked at each other in utter amazement. There were no exclamatory exchanges needed other than widened eyes and two words…”Friggin’ Brown” (I’m paraphrasing here).  

You know the A.B. story…the intense tunnel-vision, one-handed catches, speed after the catch, toe-tapping touchdowns. In this early time, A.B. seemed to be a humble and quiet man. His interview responses were thoughtful and subdued…almost Polamalu-like. There were no diamond studded earrings and tennis shoes, no Rolls-Royce and fur coat, no glittering sport coats, no “look at me,” no “you guys just want to ask me questions to get a rise out of me.”  There was a warmth, which I think all media types found endearing.  In today’s world, a more modest Antonio Brown seems nowhere to be found.  In fact, in a GQ Magazine interview, Brown put it this way… “I got all the drip.”  

More on “the drip” later in the broadcast.

Playing NFL pro football at any level is an accomplishment. Playing it at A.B.’s level is, well, at another level. When any human can play on such an elite plane in life, in any endeavor, it takes a particular mindset. There is no “I think I can,” or “I should be able to,” or “I’ll give it my best,” or “I will try.”  There is only…”I will.”  Period! You try playing the game of life at that level. Go ahead. I’ll wait… 

Yes, it’s beyond difficult. It takes a special command of the body, the mind and the spirit. It takes a drive most of us never experience. No one works harder at his craft than this man, Antonio Brown, and it takes a certain bravado to get it done. But which bravado? The Deion Sanders “look at me” kind, or the Terrell Owens “it’s all about me” kind? Tom Brady does not have this type of bravado, nor did Hines Ward or Lynn Swann.  

Lately, when Brown performs his wizardry, Bobo turns my way and mouths those three syllables… “Frig-gin’ Brown,” (to paraphrase). Lately, I find myself mouthing back only two…”Frig Brown,” (to paraphrase again). Why?  Because, unfairly or not, it’s easy to gather evidence and find culpability with those who seemingly have it all and yet still act out in various recalcitrant ways.  

With an ascension in Brown’s talents and accomplishments comes an escalation in his notoriety. And with that comes a glaring spotlight and fierce scrutiny. “Antonio Brown now gets a lot of notoriety,” says Antonio Brown in GQ.  “A lot of people watching him, a lot of news, a lot of expectations.”

“It can be hard as a targeted player in the NFL,” he continues in the interview, along with his multi-page fashionista layout, sporting $950 Botegga Veneta pants, a $4800 Prada coat and a $1700 Paul Smith suit—all in hard-to-deny colors—along with his rippled bare torso as an accessory to all he dons.  

According to A.B., “It’s hard to express yourself in the right way.” (I wonder if throwing furniture out the window is the right way to express yourself?) But Brown continues…”You just can’t say anything about my name and then show up thinking it’s cool. You gotta put some respect on it.” To that one, Forest Gump might say, “respect is as respect does.”  (I’m paraphrasing here).

As for “the drip,” that’s having the right combination of smile, swag and smell. He tells it this way in GQ…”the first time they see you smile, they gotta know you mean business. Second, you gotta have the right smell for the drip. When they first meet you, they’re gonna get that fragrance (Chanel). Then you gotta get the fit. You can’t have no basic fit, but the different fit. When you got all that, you ’bout to drip. I got all the drip.”

Antonio Brown drips with craft and talent. And with the A.B. brand now going global, with 2.5 million Instagrammers and 1.2 million Twits (Twitter followers), the humble Brown seems long gone. So who is he now?  According to Brown himself, “Being my best self every day, being a good leader, being a good father figure, being a better boyfriend. But it’s kind of hard to keep it in my pants.” 

Is driving 100 mph on McKnight Road in the middle of the afternoon being the best self you can be? That’s what Ross Township police probably asked the speedy running Brown when they busted him for speedy motoring prior to Thursday night’s (Nov. 8) Steeler thrashing of the Carolina Panthers.  

Is hanging out publicly—and privately—with model Jena Frumes, while in a live-in relationship with Chelsie Kyriss, the mother of your children, being a better boyfriend? Yes, it’s kind of hard keeping it in his pants.

Is performing sexually-suggestive TD celebrations, that your kids emulate at home, being a good father figure? The NFL busted Brown “$$$ large” for that one.   

Is throwing bottles and water jugs on the sidelines, and chairs and other furniture off a 14-story balcony, being a good leader? Miami police apparently don’t think so, nor do Brown’s SoBe neighbors and landlord. And since Brown offered to pay for damages and then was sued for unpaid damages, my guess is that the court and landlord concur.

The man—like many of us—seems to be a contradiction. He shows off his mansion with glee (one of three in Miami and Pittsburgh) that has its own synagogue. “I have a lot of Jewish friends,” he confesses on YouTube, “and a synagogue is where you bless up.” 

Brown says he’s “a simple guy” but then dresses like Liberace. He breaks out a particular sneaker from his enlarged footwear collection…maybe a Gucci, a Balenciaga, a Louis Vuitton, a Chris Paul, or a classic Air Jordan… to make a pregame statement to an opposing secondary player. Yep, it’s all about “the drip.”  “Don’t just exist, live,” declares Brown by tweet. A.B. has no issue showing off his skills, his swag, his salary, or his copious lifestyle.  

There have been many persons who played or are playing life at an elite level, and did or do so with great humility. Actor Jimmy Stewart did, as does his reincarnated self, Tom Hanks. Mahatma Gandhi sure did, as did Mother Teresa. Sidney Crosby absolutely does. Steeler Hall of Famers John Stallworth, Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier and Jerome Bettis all had it. And future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu was dripping with humility. Antonio Brown just has “the drip.”

To paraphrase Forest Gump, “the best is, as the best does.”  So I beg the question…will the best Antonio Brown please stand up?

(Lee Kann is a filmmaker, media producer and freelance writer for the New Pittsburgh Courier.  Contact: shooting16bl@gmail.com)

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