On Monday night, ESPN NFL analyst Ryan Clark was on “SportsCenter” discussing the behavior of one of his former teammates, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown.
Clark was blunt. He said that after Brown’s antics last week, when he essentially went AWOL on the Steelers just days before the biggest game of the season, it’s time for Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin to “put his foot down” and trade the four-time All-Pro (that would likely be more general manager Kevin Colbert’s purview, but the end result is the same).
While it was clear that Clark and Brown aren’t friends, Clark had no problem calling Brown not just one of the best receivers in the NFL, but one of the league’s best players across all positions.
And much of his criticism was fair: he noted that Brown has publicly aired his dissatisfaction with the number of targets he’s gotten and issues with the offensive coordinator, things that usually remain in-house.
He also brought up Brown’s infamous Facebook Live incident from the 2017 playoffs, when he live-streamed Tomlin’s postgame locker room comments to the world.
ESPN posted part of Clark’s back-and-forth with host Scott Van Pelt, the part where he said it’s time for Brown to go, on its NFL-centered Instagram account. Among the thousands of comments was one from “ab,” Brown’s verified handle on the social media app.
His only words: “Uncle Tom.”
“Uncle Tom” has come to be an epithet, one of the worst things one African-American man can call another. They’re fighting words.
Years ago, it wasn’t that way. Uncle Tom, from the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” was a martyr, who was killed by his master when he wouldn’t divulge the whereabouts of slaves who had run away. In modern usage it has become the opposite, used to label a black man a sellout.
By Brown using it, he served to highlight his lack of maturity yet again.
Over and over, we hear football coaches and players preach that it is the ultimate team sport; that sacrificing individual statistics for the greater good is part of the game. To play through nicks and some discomfort is par for the course. To get to the playoffs is all that matters.
And yet, in the days his team needed him most, Brown disappeared. He said he had some knee soreness last Wednesday, didn’t practice Thursday or Friday, didn’t get the MRI Tomlin told him to get, and then during the final walkthrough and team meeting on Saturday, the time when Is are dotted and Ts are crossed in the game plan, he was nowhere to be found. Not there in person, not answering text messages and phone calls.
On Sunday morning, he had his agent call Tomlin to say he wanted to play in the game. Tomlin, rightfully, said too bad. Brown watched pregame warmups on the field in a mink coat, and left Heinz Field at halftime, not even staying to see if his teammates pulled out the win they so desperately needed to keep their playoff hopes alive.
On Monday, their season over (the Steelers won but the help they needed from other teams didn’t come), there was a final full-team meeting to wrap things up, and again, Brown wasn’t there.
Clark played for Tomlin. He played with Brown. He knows the inner working of the Steelers’ franchise and much, if not all, of what Brown has put the team through in his time there. Was he supposed to applaud Brown for what he did last week?
Any analyst – black, white, Hispanic, whatever – is right in saying what Clark did.
If you don’t want to be criticized, don’t turn your back on your team in their “darkest days,” as Tomlin called them. Show up, and you won’t be called out.
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