Lawrence: Social Media Seismology In Today’s NFL

By Amy Lawrence

In 2017, it’s not enough for NFL head coaches to be gifted teachers, able communicators, capable multitaskers and strong leaders. No, in 2017, NFL coaches also need the ability to navigate the complicated matrix of social media. They can’t turn blind eyes or ears to the power and reach of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat; they do so at their own peril. That’s the new reality, and Mike Tomlin just got a crash course in how it works, courtesy of his star wide receiver.

The head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers should be directing all his time, attention, energy and brain power toward finding ways to topple the Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship. Instead, Tomlin is angry, embarrassed and frustrated after Antonio Brown used Facebook Live to give his fans a clandestine look inside the locker room. While Brown was goofing off for his 660,000 followers, Tomlin was delivering a passionate message to his team about the next challenge ahead. He used choice words he never would have used had he known the entire planet would have access to his speech. Make no mistake, millions of people have now heard him call the Patriots “a–holes.” Of course, no one expects that NFL head coaches use PG or PC language all the time. That’s unrealistic since locker rooms are supposed to be havens for teams, away from zealous fans and throngs of media. There’s a reason Tomlin won’t use the same description of the Patriots while standing behind a podium — the same reason most humans wouldn’t want their private conversations inside their own homes to be broadcast to the world.

On Tuesday, Tomlin was visibly upset about the situation Brown created. “It was foolish of him to do that. It was selfish for him to do that. It was inconsiderate for him to do that. Not only is it a violation of our policy, it’s a violation of league policy, both of which he knows.” Tomlin called his comment about the Patriots “regrettable” and admitted he needs to clean up his language. How humiliating for an NFL head coach to have to apologize for remarks he made behind closed doors, especially when Brown should have been paying attention to his coach rather than playing around on his phone! Maybe then he would’ve heard a teammate instruct the group to keep a low profile this week. Oh, the irony. Brown is ducking behind some lockers to stream the Steelers’ inner circle when we hear the explicit warning to “be cool” on social media. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is never shy about calling out teammates when he believes it’s warranted. “You just don’t want everyone to know what’s going on in there with the family.” He also tells 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, “I wish AB would have been listening to Coach and myself instead of being on the other side of the locker room filming.” Novel idea.

To be clear, Antonio Brown is GREAT for the league. His talent is otherworldly, and he’s worth the price of admission when he’s on the field. His choices often run amok of NFL policies, but who didn’t laugh out loud at his pole-straddling touchdown celebration and appreciate his special cleats to pay tribute to Arnold Palmer? Brown is one of the best in the world at his craft, and his personal flare makes him a fan favorite. No, broadcasting live from inside the locker room isn’t a crime; and no, his antics aren’t going to add to the Patriots’ motivation. They’re playing for the Super Bowl. What extra motivation could they need? And don’t buy into Brown’s Facebook video serving as a major distraction all week. Same as Odell Beckham Jr. and fellow Giants receivers using their day off to party on a boat in Miami, clowning around seven days before kickoff has zero impact on performance. But in what world does Mike Tomlin want to deal with this?

Honestly, in today’s NFL, this IS what coaches deal with on a regular basis. Athletes want to build their brands, boost their marketability and extend their reach. Why shouldn’t they? It’s one of the perks of playing football at the highest level. And they can always find an audience with a voracious appetite for every tweet, post, picture and video. For the record, Mike Tomlin does keep a Twitter account, though he’s only posted five times since the season kicked off. He’s not nearly as active as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll who embraces Twitter, despite being the league’s oldest head coach.

In 2017, coaches can’t ignore social media or the ripple effects. Don’t believe Bill Belichick for a second when he pretends to be clueless about “Snapface” and “Instachat.” His players wouldn’t dare stream live from inside a postgame locker room. Julian Edelman knows the drill after eight seasons in New England and says that wouldn’t happen with the Patriots. About the Steelers, he adds, “That’s how that team is run.” Ouch. Mike Tomlin has no choice but to come down hard on Brown to make sure the rest of his locker room gets the message loud and clear.

It’s funny to think about Tom Landry or Bill Walsh or Vince Lombardi or John Madden outlining team rules for social media. They had the luxury of coaching before Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram took over the globe. But this is 2017, and ignorance doesn’t equal bliss. In the age of all access, the ability to navigate social media is now part of their job description.

A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @ALawRadio.

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