Raiders’ receiver Antonio Brown is a social media phenomenon

ALAMEDA — Antonio Brown was back on social media, a day after hinting he’d be taking a break.

The Raiders star wide receiver has been big on Twitter and Instagram for years, using those mediums rather than mainstream media to shape his message and push his brand. Brown launched his own Youtube page Wednesday with the promise that  “fans and subscribers will get insight into the day to day life of the NFL’s fiercest receiver as he prepares for his 10th season with his new team.”

So it wasn’t surprising that after a Twitter promise “not to give you media fakes more ammo” Brown was back on Twitter quoting the Bible with the message “Love your enemies, do good to those that hate you, bless those that curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Brown became a national story this week for perceived social media attacks against former Pittsburgh Steelers teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster. He was overwhelmingly cast as the villain for criticizing Smith-Schuster for a late-season fumble that helped keep the Steelers out of the playoffs.

It was a curious shot across the bow, given that the day the fumble occurred against the New Orleans Saints, Brown stood at his locker and defended Smith-Schuster.

“He’s been great all year. He’s the reason we’re here,” Brown said.

Pittsburgh fans immediately responded to the “media fakes” tweet with photos of Smith-Schuster being named the Steelers MVP, an award Brown has won four times.

Nate Burleson said on the NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” that Brown was “starting to poison and taint” his legacy. Former Raiders coach Jack Del Rio told NFL.com, “I love the talent but (Antonio Brown) has clearly shown he’s going to be a pain in the (expletive.)”

Brown’s behavior and relationship with coach Jon Gruden is a drama to be played out this season in Oakland and starting in 2020 in Las Vegas. But where social media is concerned, Brown’s success is virtually ensured. He has 1.4 million Twitter followers and 3.3 million on Instagram.

Ishveen Anand is the CEO of OpenSponsorship, a platform that connects brands to athlete endorsers. The company claims to have brokered over 4,000 deals that include half of the NFL’s active players. Contacted before Brown’s Wednesday tweet, she correctly forecast Brown’s strategy going forward after the negative wave of publicity following the Smith-Schuster post.

“I think he’ll tone it down,” Anand said in a phone interview. “I think what it comes down to is you’re getting close to losing your sponsorship dollars and it’s not worth it.”

Anand likened the Brown vs. Smith-Schuster feud to this season’s Warriors’ mainstream and social media drama which has receded into the background as the NBA playoffs approach.

“What he was doing wasn’t punishable, and yeah, it’s not cool, but look at the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green spat awhile back,” Anand said. “Everyone forgets about it, so I don’t see this truly affecting (Brown) in the long term.”

Expect Brown to return to self-promotion, as evidenced by the Youtube channel. The vast majority of Brown’s social media is essentially harmless, with lots of Instagram photos and videos of his children, as well as a number which stress a legendary work ethic that Gruden has likened to that of Jerry Rice.

Photos show off his wardrobe as well as flashy training camp entrances that include arriving in a helicopter or a Rolls Royce.

Brown already backed down in a sense on the Smith-Schuster issue when he posted a direct message from the receiver, then a receiver looking for tips while in college at USC, and then later took it down.

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