If you ever wanted to know why so many athletes and coaches have such disdain for the media, they’ve given you two really good examples in recent weeks.
Two weeks ago, I wrote an article for Behind The Steel Curtain urging everyone — including the media and fans — to stop taking positive quotes from Steelers players and trying to twist them into negative narratives.
- Why did I have to write such an article?
Because of the reactions to quotes from both quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and third-year receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster that couldn’t have been any more positive and of the “taking the high road” variety.
Yet, instead of believing Ben Roethlisberger when he apologized to Brown during his interview with KDKA’s Bob Pompeani that he was sorry for his part in the deterioration of his relationship with former receiver Antonio Brown, you had people calling him a phony and a liar. You even had people such as former Steelers outside linebacker and assistant coach Joey Porter, who appeared on The NFL Network, saying Roethlisberger’s apology was too little, too late.
Then there were those who tried to read things into the positive comments JuJu Smith-Schuster made to the media two weeks ago — to paraphrase, he said he would put team success above individual numbers, and that he’d have no media restrictions in 2019 — as slights at Antonio Brown, who has gone out of his way to attack Smith-Schuster on social media this off-season.
Speaking of JuJu Smith-Schuster, as you well know, he’s been an omnipresent social media character since the Steelers selected him in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Everywhere you turn, there’s JuJu Smith-Schuster doing things like dancing with elderly folks at a retirement home, having water balloon fights with little kids at the park and dancing with teenagers at their prom.
Yes, the prom.
Last weekend, Smith-Schuster attended the Chartiers Valley High School prom as the “date” of a male student whose actual date broke up with him right before the event. The kid sent JuJu Smith-Schuster a direct message on Twitter asking him to go with him, and the receiver obliged — the two showed up with matching tuxes and everything.
You might think this would be received as what it was: one of the most unique and refreshing Steelers personalities to come along in quite some time doing something really cool for a high school student who no doubt had his heart broken right before one of the biggest events of his life.
- Instead of it being a truly depressing time for him, this kid probably had the night of his life and will now forever remember his prom as well as his “date.”
Smith-Schuster attending a kid’s prom is nothing unique in the celebrity world. They do it all the time in cases such as this, when a young fan approaches them — usually on social media — and asks them to be their date.
This isn’t usually perceived as perverted or just a phony publicity stunt aimed at furthering the celebrity’s brand. But if you have listened to some folks in the Pittsburgh sports media this week, “sick” and “phony” are just some of words used to describe JuJu Smith-Schuster’s motives.
Ron Cook, a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and co-host of the Cook and Joe Show on 93.7 The Fan, said JuJu Smith-Schuster, 22, was “sick” for attending a prom full of teenagers. He said if JuJu Smith-Schuster had attended the same prom as his daughter, he would have had a huge, huge problem with it.
Mark Madden, the controversial sports shock jock host on 105.9 The X and long-time critic of Smith-Schuster (like Hines Ward before him), has continued to pile on the young receiver this week for his ongoing community presence. And while he said JuJu Smith-Schuster attending the prom wasn’t a problem in and of itself, when you combine it with everything else, it’s clearly obvious he’s simply trying to build his brand.
“Why is there always a camera present,” scolds Mark Madden every time Smith-Schuster is in the news for some community involvement that often shows him having fun and including everyone around him.
- Again, you wonder why so many people associated with professional sports have a problem with the media.
In this mostly cynical age we now live in, even the fans have started to pile on JuJu Smith-Schuster: “For once, I’d like to see him do something nice in the community without a camera being there to document everything!”
Here’s a third-year player, who appears to have the ability to be one of the best receivers in the NFL sooner rather than later, doing nothing but positive things for a Steelers organization that, believe it or not, needs an image overhaul, yet, instead of applauding JuJu Smith-Schuster for his “breath of fresh air” approach to life as an NFL player, we’re questioning his motives? Instead of acknowledging the fact that he made a high school kid’s day by attending his prom, we call it inappropriate?
- Forget JuJu Smith-Schuster’s motives, I’m beginning to question the motives of the media, of certain fans.
As far as the average fan that is concerned with JuJu Smith-Schuster documenting his community involvement for the purposes of posting it on social media, you’ve got some nerve. Yeah, I’m taking to you, person who likes to show me what you just had for dinner, where you had it and who you had it with.
- Don’t we all do that kind of stuff on social media?
If we go to “karaoke night” and post a video of our horrible singing on our Facebook page, do people accuse us of trying to further our brand? No, they usually just “like” it and tell us how much fun we are.
As for the recent push back by the media who is seemingly trying to turn Smith-Schuster from a good guy into a villain, I’m guessing that has a lot to do with him not being as accommodating as some local reporters would like.
There are rumblings — rumblings hinted at by Mark Madden himself on an almost daily basis — that JuJu Smith-Schuster may not be the friendliest guy when the cameras are off. Or, let me put it this way: he may not be the friendliest guy to the MEDIA when the cameras aren’t rolling. “That kid is about a year away from being an a-hole,” Mark Madden quoted WDVE’s Mike Prisuta, a Steelers reporter and insider, as saying one afternoon during Smith-Schuster’s rookie season.
And there’s the rub. JuJu Smith-Schuster may not be fully on board with the local media, and that’s why some are starting to turn on him and question the motives for his ongoing community involvement.
- With all due respect to the media, I don’t really care if he likes you guys or not.
I think fans have been conditioned to believe someone is a bad person if he or she doesn’t necessarily like reporters. But if you take a step back and examine things a little closer, that’s usually not the case.
- For example, it’s quite obvious Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t like reporters, yet, nobody thinks he’s a bad person.
- Chuck Noll didn’t think much of the media, but nobody ever questioned his character.
- Bill Cowher had a contentious relationship with the press, but that antagonism remained in the background, at least while the Steelers were winning.
Let’s face it, it’s a weird dynamic, the one that exists between professional sports and the media. Coaches and athletes have to work closely with the media on a daily basis, this despite the media often being critical of them.
I don’t blame the media for being critical when a performance dictates such an opinion, but you can certainly see where the person being criticized may not want to be very chummy afterwards.
Again, JuJu Smith-Schuster is just 22 years old. And while he’s clearly a master of the social media game, he may have some work to do in-order to improve his relationship with the sports media–the one that really can shape public perception.
- As for the sports media, it may do you some good to stop looking for trouble when it’s not present.
- What exactly are JuJu Smith-Schuster’s motives with regards to his continuous community and social media presence?
Who cares? Everyone is having fun. Nobody is being harmed.
The media comes to play every day, and will certainly be there to make the tackle if and when Smith-Schuster does screw up.
As for now, stop trying to draw him off-sides with your false steps.