The NFL has been called the “No Fun League” for a long time now, and pro football’s governing body is doing nothing to shed the moniker with its treatment of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown over his sneakers.
Brown was threatened with ejection after playing the first two series of Sunday’s win against the New York Jets in custom Nike cleats that depicted the late, great Muhammad Ali. The shoes were consistent with the black-and-yellow “bumblebee themed” uniforms the Steelers wore in both color and theme. (They featured the famous Ali quote “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” painted on them alongside images of the boxer).
But league officials weren’t feeling it. After starting the game in the Ali cleats, Brown was told to change and switched into a pair of all-black shoes. This is not the first time that Brown’s feet have caught the attention of NFL police. In Week 3, Brown tried to wear another pair of custom kicks with the images of his children painted on them, and was forced to remove those as well because they didn’t comply with team colors.
Blue is spirit. Blue is peace. Blue is the color of deep water and a clear sky. Blue is trustworthiness and calm. pic.twitter.com/49W6zia4kp— Antonio Brown (@AntonioBrown) September 29, 2016
Between those incidents, Brown somehow managed to get away with wearing a pair of cleats with a tribute to golf great and Pennsylvania native Arnold Palmer.
Sunday night vibes ! The KING !! 🏌👑 pic.twitter.com/MxZe9QzAZn— Antonio Brown (@AntonioBrown) September 30, 2016
The decision to make Brown change his Ali cleats but not his Palmer ones is causing a fair amount of head scratching. But what is being lost in the news about fines and forced sneaker changes is the fact that Brown is wearing some of the coolest kicks in the game right now, and it’s a pity that he can’t continue to do so.
There is nothing the least bit controversial about any of his sneakers thus far. A tribute to his children? A tribute to a transcendent golfer? A tribute to a transcendent boxer? It makes no sense that he should get in trouble for the subject of his actions. Then when you look at the object of those actions, and see how well the artwork was executed and how hard it tries to be respectful of league rules as far as color goes, and it becomes not just a pity but petty.
On the bright side, Brown—who is not only one of the NFL’s most charismatic players but also one of its most talented—shows no signs of changing his ways.