Steelers' Antonio Brown criticizes media, saying, 'Am I really free?'
Antonio Brown returned from a nearly three-week absence from the Steelers and vented at the media for putting undue pressure on him and his family.
In a seven-minute interview, Brown blamed the media for its portrayal of the Le'Veon Bell contract situation, whether he skipped eight OTA sessions because he didn't want to catch passes from backup quarterbacks and the handling of his social-media post about coach Mike Tomlin and former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
"I've gotta wake up to the Google alerts," Brown said. "I'm constantly under the pressure. I can't go nowhere and work out by myself. Fans come meet me at the field. I can't do nothing normal. You guys write about me every day. My mom and kids see it, so we have to deal with these type of things.
"I started to think to myself, am I really free?"
After attending the first two voluntary organized team activity sessions, Brown uncharacteristically went on hiatus. He missed the final eight sessions, returning Tuesday for the start of a three-day minicamp that is mandatory for players under contract.
Brown said he retreated to his home in Florida to "get my mind right."
"The game requires a lot of mental happiness," Brown said. "The older you get, the more you think about what is important. I have five kids. All that's left for me to do is win a championship. I had to take some time off to spend time with my family to see what's important for me."
Brown rarely misses time to practice with his teammates even during voluntary sessions, which made his absence unusual.
"It's a tough time that we live in," Brown said. "You start to think about the perspective of my kids and the time I miss out on their lives. They are down in Florida, and I started thinking about what is important. Am I playing football to make a lot of money, or am I playing football to take care of my family?"
Brown was upset how the media characterized his comments about Bell, who skipped voluntary practices and is not at minicamp because he hasn't signed his franchise-tag tender. On May 23, his final appearance at voluntary workouts, Brown was asked about Bell avoiding team activities for the second consecutive offseason.
"Well, the first rule of getting better is showing up," Brown said. "You can't make anything better without showing up. So I think if you show up, I think everyone will understand where you want to be. That you want to be here not just this year but for years to come. Come out here and show up, show you want to get better and show guys you're serious."
On Tuesday, Brown said those words were misconstrued by the media.
"You guys paint me a picture to talk about Le'Veon. I'm not involved with Le'Veon's business or his contract," Brown said. "You guys write about it and said AB says (Bell needs) to show up. I just said the first rule to getting better is to show up. I didn't say he gotta show up. He's got his own business.
"You guys put pressure on me all the time in regards to life and everything, and we're supposed to take it. That ain't freedom."
Brown also took issue with suggestions he didn't attend OTAs because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn't there. Roethlisberger attended the first session, then missed the next seven because of a family vacation. Brown's absence raised questions about whether he didn't want to catch passes from backups Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs and third-round draft pick Mason Rudolph.
"I'll play with any quarterback," Brown said. "No matter who is here, I play for the Steelers, not one guy."
Later, Brown doubled down on his comments.
"(The media) is writing about where I'm at, what I'm doing, making up stories, asking my teammates stuff they've got to answer for," he said. "I'm hearing I don't want to (take) throws from backups. I've got a rookie quarterback here, where's the respect?"
When a reporter tried to ask Tomlin about Brown and Roethlisberger being at minicamp after missing so much time at OTAs, the coach cut off the question.
"I'm not feeding that beast in any way," Tomlin said.
Brown also was asked about his recent Instagram post that brought up Arians calling him a "special teams" player and Tomlin benching him for a game as a rookie when he had to compete with Emmanuel Sanders for playing time.
"When I take time to reflect, I reflect on guys who made it hard on me for no reason," Brown said. "I don't hate those guys. I love those guys, but it's good as a player to get those things out of your mind."
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.