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Saunders: Who Gets to Retire a Steeler?

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Antonio Brown Ben Roethlisberger Steelers

Who gets to retire with team honors as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers? That’s an interesting question that came up on Monday, when former Steelers wide receiver and general miscreant Antonio Brown said that he would like to retire from football as a member of the team that drafted him.

Brown left the Steelers in about the worst possible breakup in 2018, quitting on the team before the end of the season by refusing to practice, and then forcing a trade to the Oakland Raiders.

Since then Brown’s behavior has been even worse, with off-the-field legal issues ranging from excessive speeding to disputes with the mother of his child, to being sued by people that he refused to pay to sexual assault allegations. The latter got Brown suspended from the NFL.

Given a second chance by Tampa Bay, he quit on yet another team, leaving in the middle of a game against the New York Jets last season.

Brown’s accomplishments on the field are worthy of celebration. He was the best wide receiver in the NFL for the better part of a decade and he is the best wide receiver in Steelers history. He’s a seven-time Pro Bowler and a five-time All-Pro. He led the NFL in receptions twice, receiving yards twice and touchdowns once and is a member of the 2010s NFL All-Decade Team.

If not for quitting on two teams and his off-the-field issues, we’d be talking about Brown as a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Of course, if not for his antics, we’d probably taking about him still being a productive NFL player at age 33.

Brown isn’t the first Steelers player to hurt their reputation off the field. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was just given a hero’s sendoff for his retirement, years after rape allegations surfaced against him. Other Steelers players like James Harrison and Santonio Holmes have also been accused of domestic assault and seen their images rehabilitated.

Many former Steelers have spent the end of their careers in other uniforms, only to be welcomed back into the fold, like Alan Faneca, Kevin Greene, Franco Harris, Harrison, Greg Lloyd, Mike Webster and Rod Woodson.

Roethlisberger made good on his second chance. He stayed out of trouble off the field for the rest of his career, while continuing to play at a high level on it. There are people that still dislike Roethlisberger for his earlier alleged misdeeds, but the majority of the Steelers fanbase supported him.

Brown’s downward spiral that ended with him suspended from the league might have eventually been forgiven, if he’d have continued to keep his head down and play when given a second chance by Bruce Arians. But he never gave the world that chance.

Letting a player retire as a Steeler is partially about honoring the player and partially a public relations stunt. Brown hasn’t shown himself worth honoring and any press gleaned from doing so would likely be negative.

Maybe perceptions of Brown will change over time, but at this point, it doesn’t make sense for the Steelers to grant his request.

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