Yesterday, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was told by NFL officials to change his cleats. The league told him the same thing several weeks back when he wore baby blue cleats with his kids' faces on them, and fined him $9,000 after Week 1 for wearing another pair of non-team color shoes. So the NFL made him once again change his cleats before going back onto the field. No big deal, right?
Last week, Brown was allowed by the league to wear a pair of cleats honoring recently deceased golf legend Arnold Palmer, presumably because they matched his team's colors and abided by the other (outrageously strict) uniform guidelines. Nice work, AB! You cracked the code! You figured out how to balance individuality with the National Football League's oppressive need to control everything player-related! Oh wait.
It only took two Steelers drives for officials to step in and tell Brown that he needed to change. Which wouldn't be a surprise had he been fined or told to change his cleats last week. But he wasn't. The NFL was perfectly fine with this Arnold Palmer tribute:
But not fine with this tribute to boxer/activist/arguably the greatest athlete in American history Muhammad Ali:
Both cleats are in team colors. Both feature the same kind of artwork. Yet, according to the NFL, only one is allowed.
It's almost as if the NFL values a tribute to Arnold Palmer over a tribute to Muhammad Ali.
And it wasn't as if the league simply threatened to fine Brown if he continued to ball in the Ali-painted footwear. According to reports, he was threatened with an actual ejection if he didn't change.
The NFL was going to throw the best wide receiver in the world out of a game because he wore a cleat paying tribute to one of the most beloved men in the world? A week after he was allowed to play an entire game with practically the same cleat?
Draw your own conclusions.