Antonio Brown faces losing battle with NFL over cleats and pumps

Antonio Brown in cleats battle with NFL (1:17)

Andre Reed and Marcellus Wiley are curious to see how far Antonio Brown takes wearing custom cleats before the NFL really comes down hard on him. (1:17)

PITTSBURGH -- This fight may be over.

Listening to Antonio Brown discuss (for the fifth straight week) the NFL's high-wattage spotlight on him sort of felt like a breakup. But the receiver can't exactly see other people. Brown and NFL officiating must co-exist. And one side is definitely not changing its stance.

"I've just got to follow the rules," Brown said.

No pumps. No customized cleats. That much is clear. For the third straight week, a league uniform inspector told Brown to take off his cleats, this time for his Muhammad-Ali-inspired footwear.

This is a battle that Brown can't win, no matter how fun it was for a few weeks. And the league rulebook gives commissioner Roger Goodell authority to discipline a player for blatant disregard of the uniform rules, which would apply to Brown if he keeps trying to wear the cleats in game action.

No one wants Brown to miss a game over this, but it's not out of the question. He's at-risk.

Brown, who has accumulated about $45,000 worth of fines this year for touchdown celebrations and his shoe game, seemed resigned to that fate on Sunday. He had a restrained fourth-quarter touchdown celebration in a 31-13 win over the Jets. Instead of dancing, Brown calmly walked to the back of the end zone stands to give the ball to a fan.

At least he gave a hint of his 'Boomin' swag postgame when he discussed why he kept calm.

"I can do what I want. It's America," said Brown at his locker after the game. "It's how I was feeling today. It's a long game. It's a tough game. It wasn't the time to really put the pumps in."

Brown hasn't committed to future use of his pumps. For weeks, he's been purposely ambiguous. Showmen love the element of surprise, and Brown is indeed a showmen.

Brown's moves earned praise with the crowds that considered the NFL too stiff. As ESPN's Kevin Seifert pointed out, the NFL is at Peak No Fun. A faction of the fan base will continue to applaud Brown for his conviction. And the in-game cleat warnings are essentially slaps on the wrist.

But I can't imagine the league will let that current trend persist. Brown clearly knows the rules -- even if they are silly -- at that point.

The league's uniform policy states 'additional fines may be imposed on team management and the coaching staffs for condoning, permitting, etc., violations in this area." Repeat offenses could affect the team, which Brown has made clear he doesn't want to do. The Steelers don't have a comment on matters relating to fines.

As a compromise, Brown can wear his customized cleats in pregame warmups and then make a switch before the start of every game. That way, he still gets the social media buzz with an unveiling and a few photo ops. He can still be himself. Players such as Cam Newton and Odell Beckham do that all the time.

As for the celebration, teammates would like to see Brown try one to test the limits.

But one of the game's biggest stars won't get away with that either.

Brown's a creative dude, though. We'll see what he does next.

But it's probably time to try something new, from head to toe.