Antonio Brown’s life has been under a magnifying glass since he left the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason. The good, the bad and the ugly have been observed. We live in a world where we reach into our pockets and can peak into the lives of our favorite athletes on a minute-to-minute basis.

Brown is currently under investigation by the NFL for multiple sexual assault allegations. But even before his accusations came to light, he used his platform on social media to dictate where his career headed next. Call it unprofessional, call it annoying, or call it AB fatigue, but it worked. Brown forced his way out of Oakland to land a contract with the most dominant team in the league over the past decade, the New England Patriots.

Social media impact

Brown’s decision to use social media to punch his ticket out of Oakland was a tactical and calculated decision. Brown dominated the news cycle. Every like, tweet and Instagram story was headline news. Brown’s prowess as a football player became irrelevant. He began being analyzed by his social media outputs instead, and it worked to Brown’s benefit. But that might just be the tip of the iceberg.

Brown used the media’s coverage of his social media to send a message to the Raiders. Whether it was edgy videos or cryptic tweets, the media ate it up while the rest of the league watched.

Brown isn’t the first athlete whose social media accounts became news

The coverage of Brown’s training camp saga was reminiscent of Kevin Durant’s final season as a Golden State Warrior. Durant didn’t consult with social media specialists to leave Golden State, but his social media presence was still widely used as headline news. Durant never called for his release or even acted as slightly disruptive as Brown. Still, his usage of social media became a popular topic of discussion.

It became less about the basketball on the court and more about Durant’s impending decision, Instagram, and attitude towards the media. Similar to Brown, Durant is one of the best in his sport, but each was getting judged by how they acted on social media rather than their performance.

Social media activity is now covered at the most minute level. Who players follow on social media is now headline news. While a player is simply clicking follow (or unfollow) on a screen, that act can be taken for being a bad teammate.

Is this the future of sports coverage across all media platforms? Will it become more important how players handle themselves on social media instead of on the field?

A look back at the past

Before we look to the future, let’s play the “what-if” game about the past. How social media is being covered begs the question about how other “diva” players would’ve used social media to drive their narrative.

What would Randy Moss have tweeted during his tenure in Oakland? What would Terrell Owens have posted on Facebook after doing sit-ups in his front yard? What would be on Lawerence Taylor’s Instagram story? These players were each known as big personalities, but their play did the talking. With social media, their futures could’ve been different.

Sharing philanthropic ideas, showing one’s personality, and allowing fans to see who an athlete is off the field are the best parts of social media. But there are also some grey areas. Brown used his platform and weaponized it to get out of Oakland.

It’s easy to look at there situations like Brown’s and just say, “put the phone down.” But that’s no longer the reality we live in. The bottom line is Brown used social media to get to where he wanted to be. Brown went from disgruntled Raider to being employed by a Super Bowl contender.

What does the future hold?

Even though Brown may look like he handled the situation poorly, you’d have to be living under a rock to think other players haven’t taken notice. Players could follow in Brown’s footsteps by using social media to force their way out from their current team.

What can the league do? Ban its players from using applications like Twitter or Instagram? That’s obviously not a possibility. Now if a player tells his agent he wants out of his current team, the agent’s first call should be to a social media specialist.

Social media’s impact has already taken a stranglehold on the future of football. High school athletes are busy positing “top-10” decision Instagram videos. The transfer portal is headline news with emoji tweets flying across our timelines. The biggest story of the NFL offseason involved Brown’s social media. This all started as news, but how Brown used his outlet to make an impact on his career is mixing into uncharted territory. Brown could be an example for players wanting to take back power.

Brown is being labeled a lot of things, but for an unhappy player, his saga to get “free” from the Raiders could be a roadmap for the future.