PITTSBURGH — The sideline demeanor of second-year Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens could probably use some work.
Pickens was visibly frustrated for his lack of involvement in the offense, needed to be calmed down and consoled by multiple teammates and staff members. It’s not the first time that’s happened, and it probably won’t be the last.
He also took to Instagram with a post captioned “free me” on Saturday, causing a stir among the fanbase.
But there’s no stir in the Steelers locker room.
“It’s George,” Calvin Austin III said. “We’re rocking with him. That’s our guy.”
Austin and Pickens came in together as rookies in the Class of 2022 and are close. He said he can understand how people from the outside might take Pickens’ behavior as a sign of a selfish individual or a problem teammate, but Austin said that from the inside, they know that Pickens just badly wants to be able to do his part, and his frustration at not being able to is not an issue in the locker room.
“The great thing about it, I feel like as George’s teammates, we love him as a person,” Austin said. “All that stuff is like neither here nor there. If he wants to do that, fine. We don’t care as players and teammates. Now if he was an a-hole or something, then it would be different. But like, he’s a good, genuine person. We as teammates love him as a teammate. Us knowing that, and who he really is, nothing he can say or do can really change our opinion of him.”
Hours before people were scrutinizing Pickens’ level of celebration after Diontae Johnson scored a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans, Pickens and Austin were at Johnson’s house getting ready for the game.
“We went over there, kicked it, ate, chilled, played the game,” Austin said. “It’s the same week that this stuff happened. At the end of the day, we’re all human. We’re emotional beings. That’s what makes us who we are. It’s never wrong to show your emotion.”
Controlling the Narrative
Johnson said that as a veteran, he wants to make sure that Pickens is aware of the eyeballs that are on him, both from a fanbase and a media standpoint. He knows what kind of person and player Pickens is, but he is also well aware that little snippets of behavior can be the thing that defines you in the public sphere.
“You’ve got to know that people are watching you,” Johnson said. “Little kids. It doesn’t matter who it is. You’re a professional, you’ve got to act like a professional. That’s what I stand on. …
“When we came in on Monday, we chopped it up with him and just kind of told him what he should do next time and not put that stuff out there. You don’t want people to create a narrative about you.”
Johnson said that Pickens has been receptive to the advice.
“I had a good talk with him,” Johnson said. “He understood, and I understood where he was coming from, as well. Nobody’s perfect. You can’t knock him. At the same time, he’s human, so I didn’t think too much of the situation. I know what it was from — frustration from the game, obviously.”
“That all just stems from how great he knows he can be, and just his competitiveness and how bad he wants to be successful,” Austin said. “George is one of the greatest receivers we have in the game and he wants to put that on display every single Sunday.”
The Steelers vets are right to caution Pickens about maintaining a more professional public image, but the idea that his behavior could cause strife within the locker room or issues with his teammates seems far-fetched after talking with them.
“No matter what goes on on the outside, as long as we know we got each other in here, that’s what really matters,” Austin said.