The Antonio Brown saga took another turn Wednesday when the wayward wide receiver, who was benched for the Steelers' must-win game Sunday after skipping practices, finally showed up and submitted a key performance on the national stage.
However, it had nothing to do with strapping on a helmet and helping Pittsburgh win — and everything to do with taking off a hippo costume and revealing himself as a “Masked Singer.”
That’s right. Amid all sorts of drama with the football team that pays handsomely for his skills, and with which he has reportedly had very little recent communication, Brown made a splash as a contestant on a show that could well be a huge hit for Fox. In fairness, it was his right to do that, or as he sang it, “My Prerogative.”
Unfortunately for Brown, he’s not winning many new fans these days, in Pittsburgh or on Fox’s set, and by virtue of submitting the least-liked performance, he became the first person unmasked on “The Masked Singer.” Thus his run on the program, which was filmed in June (per The Post’s Emily Yahr) and had its debut Wednesday, was short-lived, while it remains to be seen just how much longer his career lasts in the Steel City.
Brown has reportedly asked for a trade, and while Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin indicated that was not the case at a news conference earlier on Wednesday — oh, to have had that media session take place after the show aired — there is little doubt that Tomlin and others in the Pittsburgh organization, including some of Brown’s teammates, are fed up with him.
Telling reporters that Brown was “absent” from the season-ending game “due to injury and lack of communication,” Tomlin said, “As we’re wallowing in it today, I’m open to change, because I’m not open to doing this again next year.” According to the coach, after Brown got into a dispute last Wednesday with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the wide receiver skipped every subsequent practice and team meeting, then actually arrived at Pittsburgh’s stadium Sunday expecting to play, only to be informed by Tomlin that his role was to just “be there in support of his teammates.”
The 31-year-old player was spotted before the game wearing a fur coat on the Steelers' sideline, then reportedly left the stadium at halftime of a contest his team desperately needed to win to have any hope of reaching the playoffs. Tomlin said he hasn’t spoken since then with Brown, who skipped Monday’s exit meetings only to surface in a decidedly unexpected and undeniably high-profile manner.
Pittsburgh managed to win Sunday’s game but barely in a low-scoring affair, and subsequent results, plus the team’s so-so record, meant that it missed the postseason for the first time since 2013. The Steelers have had a roller-coaster campaign that began with star running back Le’Veon Bell staging what would turn into a season-long holdout, featured Roethlisberger’s unusually blunt criticism of teammates, including Brown, and ended with the latter’s confounding no-show.
Little wonder, then, that Pittsburgh tight end Jesse James compared his team to the Kardashians. That was Monday, then came Wednesday, and lo and behold, Brown was on an actual reality-TV show.
The audience and celebrity panel for “The Masked Singer” had been given clues about the identities of the contestants, who apart from Brown’s hippo performed as stylized versions of a peacock, lion, deer, unicorn and monster. In a disguised voice and while shown wearing his costume, Brown said that he was “used to performing in a mask and in front of thousands of screaming fans,” adding, “Every time I win, I just gotta dance, even if it gets me in trouble,” and, “I conquer every arena that I enter."
Those comments, combined with Brown’s nimble moves onstage and less-than-stellar singing voice, led the panelists to conclude that the hippo was some kind of athlete. They guessed at Odell Beckham Jr., Deion Sanders and even Allen Iverson, only to discover that they had been close but lacking in victory cigars.
A seven-time Pro Bowler who has twice led the NFL in catches and receiving yardage and this season paced the league in touchdown receptions, Brown posted a tweet around the time that Tomlin was speaking to the media in which the receiver said, “My options may seem limited by people or circumstances. It is then I remind myself I am in command of my attitude.
"I am divinely blessed with free will. I utilize that gift, choosing to take charge of my life; to express the creativity, vitality and wholeness that truly define me.”
The Steelers may also exercise their free will to rid themselves of the headache Brown has become, despite his abundant talent (at football, if not in vocal range). If so, they’ll likely find a few other teams acting like hungry, hungry hippos to acquire Brown’s services, but Tomlin and Co. could decide it’s worth it to ensure their team is singing a different tune next season.
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