Pittsburgh Steelers put end to JuJu Smith-Schuster’s pregame TikTok-ing

RAY FITTIPALDO
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.

PITTSBURGH – The clock has struck midnight. TikTok-ing is over for JuJu Smith-Schuster.

At least it’s over when it comes to performing his dance routines on other teams’ logos before games.

Smith-Schuster’s popular videos started to become a distraction for the Steelers in recent weeks after opposing players saw him performing and used it as motivation in the game.

“I think it’s getting to the point where my teammates are being asked this question,” Smith-Schuster said Wednesday afternoon. “My coach is being asked this question. There was no intention of disrespect. I’m big on social media, the positive. Doing stuff like that you get the positive and the negative. So, for the betterment of myself and my teammates, I’m going to stop dancing on the logos.”

Smith-Schuster is one of, if not the most popular player in the NFL on social media. He has 3.4 million followers on Instagram, 2.7 million on TikTok, 1.1 million followers on Twitter and the same number on his YouTube channel.

NFL players have become savvy businessmen and are taking full advantage of the lucrative ways they can promote themselves and their products on their social media channels. It’s an especially popular medium for younger players who are on rookie contracts.

Smith-Schuster signed a four-year, $4.19 million contract with the Steelers in the summer of 2017. He’s made much more over that span through his social media accounts, although Smith-Schuster said Wednesday TikTok was not paying him to dance on logos.

Dealing with social media distractions is not unfamiliar for the Steelers. In January of 2017, after the Steelers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in a playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium, receiver Antonio Brown Facebook Lived Mike Tomlin’s postgame speech that included some derisive remarks about the New England Patriots, their opponent the following week in the AFC championship game.

“We spotted those 1/8 expletives3/8  a day and a half,” Tomlin said. “So be it. We’ll be ready for their a–.”

The Steelers had previously let Brown’s antics on social media slide, but this was different. He became a distraction before the most important game of the season. On top of that, there was a direct conflict of interest for the team. Facebook was paying Brown a six-figure marketing deal to air his content.

The Steelers fined Brown and tried to move on, but they were no match for the Patriots in the AFC title game in Foxborough. When the Steelers parted ways with Brown in 2019, after another two years of off-the-field distractions, general manager Kevin Colbert said the Steelers had to get a better handle on how to deal with younger players and their branding efforts.

“We want players to grow into great players – Pro Bowlers, potential Hall of Famers,” Colbert said at the 2019 NFL scouting combine. “But what we’re learning is it’s a different world. Social media has changed things. Branding has changed things. We have to do a better job of managing young players as they grow into mega-stars. We’re learning on the fly. It’s more relevant this year because of Le’Veon1/8 Bell’s3/8  situation and Antonio’s situation. But maybe the lesson is we have to catch these guys when they’re young. And again, coach Tomlin is great at cultivating players and making them into a young man and a great professional.”

Smith-Schuster had not previously been a distraction to the team. Quite the contrary, as Tomlin and his teammates like and respect him because of the way he goes about his business. But in the past two weeks his routines had become distractions the Steelers were forced to deal with.

NBC shot a video of Bills quarterback Josh Allen before the game telling his teammates about Smith-Schuster and using it to fire them up. Other Bills players said it motivated them after the game.

Nonetheless, Smith-Schuster said last week he was going to continue dancing on logos at midfield.

“I’m just having fun, doing myself,” he said. “At the end of the day, as long as we go out there and playn… yes, we lost, they had a few words to say, and it is what it is. I’m not going to stop doing it.”

True to his word, Smith-Schuster went live on his Instagram account Monday evening two hours before the Steelers were set to play the Cincinnati Bengals on “Monday Night Football.” He teased the TikTok dance in a video and followed through on his promise a few minutes later when he danced and spiked footballs on top of the Bengals’ logo at the 50-yard line at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Steelers lost to the Bengals, the last-place team in the AFC North, and Smith-Schuster was the recipient of a hard hit by Bengals safety Vonn Bell, who said after the game that Smith-Schuster’s antics gave the Bengals “so much momentum, so much energy.”

Bell’s hit caused Smith-Schuster to fumble and set up one of the Bengals’ touchdowns.

“I’m not a boastful guy, man,” Bell said. “I just go out there and let my play do the talking. It just happened that it comes to that.”

Like with Brown’s Facebook Live video, Tomlin felt the need to step in and take action. One week after claiming to be unaware of Smith-Schuster’s pregame dancing, Tomlin said Tuesday afternoon that he was going to have a talk with him about it.

That talk happened, and Smith-Schuster’s will no longer fill his social media channels at opposing team’s stadiums.

“Honestly, I don’t want to be a distraction to anyone, not my team or another team,” Smith-Schuster said. “Like I said, if it’s getting to the point where you’re asking my teammates and coaches about it then there’s no point. Ideally, I’ll probably just do everything in-house.”