Dear NFL, Let Your Players Express Themselves Through Their Cleats

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Once again, the NFL proved that they are the No Fun League when Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown confirmed that referees threatened to sit him for the second half of the Steelers’ game against the Philadelphia Eagles this past Sunday. Why, you might ask? Was it for conduct that was detrimental to his team? Was it for antagonizing the refs that would be seen as disrespectful? Nope, it was for his baby blue custom Nike Alpha Pro cleats that featured his four kids. You know, the reason he gets up every morning and does his job and strives to be one of the best wide receivers in the game today.


Brown isn’t the only player who has been mired in cleat-related controversy in this young NFL season. DeAndre Hopkins was also fined for wearing the famous adidas Yeezy 350 Cleats during the season opener. Cam Newton, famous for wearing all sorts of amazing Under Armour custom cleats during warm-ups, always switches back out to his regular game cleats after kickoff. Thankfully the league wasn’t totally heartless when it came to players honoring the victims of September 11th or else even alt-right nutjobs would be calling for Roger Goodell’s head.

The NFL is the most popular sports league in America and thus has to serve a lot of people both in the corporate world and among its fan base. Anything they can do to limit controversy, whether it’s fining players for “excessive celebrations” (Guess who got fined for twerking? Yup, Antonio Brown) or for writing messages on their tape, they are going to do so. But for as popular as the league is, there is an air of lameness about them that prohibits players from truly expressing themselves on the field. It’s a small miracle Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been kicked out of the league for his pregame protests (and if you read the comments section or Twitter replies of any story relating to that, you know that a lot fans are wishing the league would). The league office must have been so scarred by players like Terrell Owens, Jeremy Shockey and Chad Ochocino during the early 2000s that they took their policing to an extreme. To a certain extent, you can understand why the refs might come up to Brown and ask him to switch out his cleats, but to threaten to sit him for the second half because of it? That’s an extreme by any measure.

Imagine an NBA where LeBron James wasn’t able to wear his Nike LeBron 10 What The MVP when he won the award back in 2013, only one of his most iconic signature sneaker moments. What if for Christmas Day, Kobe Bryant could not wear his Nike Zoom Kobe 6 Grinch or Nike Zoom Kobe 5 Chaos kicks? How about instead of all the crazy kicks that the brands come up with All-Star Weekend, they were forced to only make red and white kicks for the West and blue and white for the East? Michael Jordan would not be the deity he is today if the NBA had decided to take a hard NFL-like stance on his Air Jordan 1 instead of running with it and in turn helping Nike and the sneaker industry grow into the billion-dollar industry it is today.

The NFL is obviously winning and doesn’t need to listen to me or Antonio Brown or Kanye West. They have such a strong connection with large portion of this country that they can just keep on being a police state when it comes to their uniform policy. It is such a bummer that the only time things change up is during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and even those come with limitations too. But if they want to let their fans, especially those below the age of 20 who grew up as Antonio Brown fans and think Kanye West is the greatest of all-time, to know that they have a little bit of fun in them, they will let these things slide.

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