Can we have a conversation about Antonio Brown, mental health, and weaponizing public opinion and the media?
This morning I was scrolling the social media feeds and engaging appropriately when I came across a video that stopped me in my tracks; Antonio Brown pulling off his jersey and other articles of clothing mid-game and walking off the field. Many of the headlines threw terms out like “meltdown” to describe what was happening. While I’m not by any means a football fan or familiar with Antonio Brown (abbreviated AB in many tweets) as a person, what I couldn’t help but notice were 3 themes in the overall public sentiment about the clips:
I went on to tweet my opinion based on some report that he was refusing to play after being asked to play injured and ultimately quit because of the way he was being treated. I later learned that this wasn’t the complete story and that his “theatrics” was prompted by an issue over a bonus that carried criteria he has yet to fulfill and somehow felt that circumstances were being manipulated to keep him from fulfilling the requirements to attain said bonus.
Almost immediately following my posting the tweet, I screenshotted it and posted it to Instagram, and made a video on TikTok in response to the media portrayal. NFL fans and people familiar with AB begin sliding into my DM to let me know that this “wasn’t it” and that my stance is a bad take. AB is confirmed to have a history of behavior one publication described as being a “diva”. One person let me know straight up that he is just not a “good dude”.
My response :
I’m not invested in whether or not he’s a good person or in his career with the NFL at all, but I do think that this moment can be used as a teachable one that I can personally relate to very well, and that’s exercising a choice around your employment as a Black man and being crucified for it by the media and public opinion.
Back in May of 2021, I shared a tweet that has since gone viral describing my own departure from corporate America without giving notice for reasons of mental health. That tweet garnered 2 million impressions and led to two viral articles with Business Insider, one viral article with Entrepreneur, an interview with the New York Post, an invitation to a large money podcast, and an invitation to Tamron Hall’s daytime television show. Although most of the responses to my departure (and reason for doing it) were met with celebration and encouragement, there were some who felt justified in doing the same type of thing that’s being done with AB. Attacks were made on my integrity, work ethic, professionalism, some even going as far as to hope for my downfall and declaring that I was selfish, lazy, and wanted to live off of the government. I received emails, website submissions, and mentions on social media about how angry and disappointed some people were as employers, as managers, or simply as bystanders who have read the story without regard to what I was feeling, experiencing, and how long I had endured it. None of that matters when you are disrupting a system that doesn’t care about you or your well being as much as it cares about what you can do for it and how long you can do it for (bonus points if you don’t complain). As a Black man, it’s also important to highlight that we carry a stigma around discussing mental health and expressing emotion that often doesn’t allow for us to take time to unpack the things that affect us until it’s too late. We are then ridiculed on public display for having said breakdown in the first place (insert various memes of Michael Jordan, Tyrese, Kanye, Will Smith, etc).
We can speculate around AB’s mental health status, his financial contracts, and his theatrics all we want but nobody knows what was or is truly going on in his mind and why he felt he needed to take the steps he did to make his point, and it’s nobody’s business. He made the decision he felt was best for him and he doesn’t owe an explanation to anyone. Public opinion by way of social media and traditional media fan the flames of misunderstanding by attacking the character of a man who’s had enough and took a stand by making a decision. While it’s justified that we can have and express our opinions, it’s important we also demonstrate empathy especially when we don’t have all the facts.