Athlete personality makes games fun

In Sunday’s victory over the New York Jets, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown did the unthinkable after scoring a touchdown.

He calmly walked to the back of the end zone and handed the ball, thrown by Ben Roethlisberger, to a fan sitting in the front row wearing a No. 84 Brown jersey.

It was a traditional Brown celebration. Yet, it wasn’t the flashy extracurriculars that have drawn scorn from the media in the first five weeks of the season. Brown found another way to perturb the masses on Sunday with Muhammad Ali-inspired cleats.

A week prior, Brown wore cleats to honor the passing of golf legend and Western, Pa. native Arnold Palmer. He has also worn cleats with his children’s faces in a game this year.

But, with Ali, enough was enough. It wasn’t that the NFL was against Brown honoring Ali; he could have worn cleats with a symbolic representation of Harambe the gorilla and he still would have been told to change into a new pair.

The NFL was on high-alert for Brown this week. The league offices were out to send a message to Brown and all other players who wish to push the limit of their rules and regulations.

According to ESPN.com, Brown has been fined roughly $45,000 this season for his celebratory dancing and uniform infractions. That total is more than many of us make in a year, but it’s not enough for Brown, or any professional athlete, to even bat an eye.

Brown may not have twerked or pumped in the end zone against the Jets, but he might just boogie or foxtrot against the Miami Dolphins this week.

And that’s perfectly fine.

Brown has not put the Steelers in a bad position with any of his antics this season. In fact, he may have just helped the team garner more attention with his feel-good attitude and fun approach to the game.

Because, football is just that. It’s a game.

Brown isn’t the first player to wear outlandish gear or taunt an opponent or opposing fanbase. Guys like Ickey Woods, Tony Gonzalez and the entire 1985 Chicago Bears roster made the game fun.

Antonio Brown is doing the same.

Professional football players should not have free reign of what they do on the field. There are rules and boundaries in place for a reason, but they should be able to ride out the raw emotions they experience in a game.

For high school players, it’s a different story.

Coaches have to monitor what their players do on and off the field. A high school football player isn’t going to customize his cleats because he simply can’t afford to. When he makes the big bucks at the age of 23 (which there is less than a one-percent chance of that happening) he can wear whatever he wants to wear on the field.

A high school player must also stay within his own limits in dealing with raw emotion. Every player that makes a sack or catches a touchdown pass will let out a yell, pump his fist and chest-bump a teammate.

I’ve even seen players high-five fans standing along the railing.

I’ve never seen a player dance like Brown, shuffle like Woods or slam-dunk the ball over the goal post like Gonzalez.

They know better. In part, because their coaches have laid the foundation for an ethical football program.

It’s harder to do that with grown men making millions of dollars.

Brown is lucky in the fact that he plays for coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin, at age 36, was the youngest coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl in 2008. At age 44, in 2016, he is widely regarded as a “players coach” and one of the most likeable leaders in the sport.

Brown also plays for the Rooney family. The legendary ownership group keeps a tight watch over their employees and could easily tell Brown to shape up or ship out.

They seem to have let Brown be his own man.

Brown is also a smart man. Following the game against the Jets, he told reporters, “I can do what I want. It’s America. It’s how I was feeling today. It’s a long game. It’s a tough game. It wasn’t the time to really put the pumps in.

“I have to follow the rules.”

He could have turned over a new leaf.

Maybe the Rooney family did offer a formal reprimand.

Either way, Brown helps keep the game fun. It’s always refreshing to see someone’s hard work and dedication pay off at the highest level.

By having fun, it shows how much a guy truly enjoys how fortunate he is to be living the life that millions of others can only dream about.

(Peaslee is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com and followed on Twitter at @HSDTsports)

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