Antonio Brown skipped the majority of the Pittsburgh Steelers' voluntary team activities, and on Tuesday at the team's minicamp, he expressed his frustration in his dealings with the media and the constant scrutiny he faces in the public eye.
"You guys write the stories. I wake up to Google alerts. I'm constantly under pressure," he told reporters, per Ray Fittipaldo of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I can't go nowhere and work out by myself. Fans come meet me at the field. I can't do anything normal. My mom and my kids see it. We have to deal with these types of things."
"I started to think to myself, 'Am I really free?'" he continued. "I can't really express myself in this game. I can't really tell you guys how I feel. You guys put pressure on me all the time. Am I really free? I ... ask myself that in regards to taking away time from my kids. I had to get away to free my mind."
Brown told reporters he skipped the OTAs to have more time with his family and evaluate what was important in his life.
"This is a tough time, the times we live, when you start thinking about it from the perspective of my kids, the time I miss from their lives, with me being away and they're down in Florida," he said. "I started to think about what's important, if I'm playing football to make a lot of money? Or am I playing football to take care of my family? Those are some of the decisions I think about when I don't come here every day."
Brown also said he wasn't happy with the media suggesting he wasn't showing up to OTAs because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn't present.
"I don't have a problem with anyone," he said. "I just feel like as a player, you play this game so much you never really get a chance to express yourself. Everyone is always telling us to bottle everything up and say nothing. When I reflect on my career, there are a lot of people who put a lot of pressure on me. ... When I take time to reflect on the guys who made it hard on me for no reason, I don't hate those guys. I love those guys. But it's good to get those things out of your mind in regards to people who put pressure on you."
He also suggested that NFL players who don't speak up for themselves during their career are more likely to face mental-health issues later in life.
"As a player, you have to start expressing things to get it out of your head," he said. "I think the more you bottle stuff up and don't express yourself, that’s where these players have problems. But we don't talk about the players who don't play anymore, the guys who can't remember anything because their whole careers they were taught to hold stuff in. We can't really express ourselves at this level."
Brown's concerns off the field have not translated to a lack of production on it. The six-time Pro Bowler caught 101 passes for 1,533 yards and nine scores in 2017, his fifth straight season with at least 100 receptions, 1,250 receiving yards and eight or more touchdowns.
Pro Football Focus ranked him as the No. 7 player in all of the NFL last season and the top wide receiver. But it's clear that Brown is carefully analyzing football in the context of his life and overall happiness as a human being, and he is seeking the freedom to do so publicly rather than hiding his true feelings.
Pundits and fans alike often lament athletes who give canned answers and toe the company line. In that respect, Brown's candor is refreshing.