Antonio Brown ups ante on himself

PITTSBURGH -- There is delicious irony in a teammate calling out a former one for contributing to a culture in which teammates call out one another to the detriment of locker-room chemistry.

But give Antonio Brown, who ripped former Steelers safety Ryan Clark Sunday in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, credit for putting his name on it.

For owning it.

Now it is incumbent upon Brown, who is entering his fifth NFL season, to become the kind of leader who can bridge whatever rifts exist in the Steelers’ locker room.

Brown, whom his teammates voted Steelers' MVP in 2013 for the second time in three seasons, said near the end of last season that the next step in his maturation process is becoming more of a leader.

Brown didn’t take a step as much as he did a running leap in that department, whether his criticism of Clark is valid or not.

Is a player who has shown me-first tendencies in the past ready to become one of the Steelers’ leaders? He better be since Brown did not hold back in criticizing one of three players voted a captain by his Steelers’ teammates last season.

Not that earning such a distinction makes one’s leadership above reproach, and Clark always seems to turn up the volume for better and for worse.

He is chatty – whether he is in the locker room or on the practice field. He is also opinionated, and last season Clark raised the antennae that had surrounded the Steelers following a dreadful start when he said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had to stop risking putting the defense in bad spots by trying to extend plays.

More recent Clark comments weren’t nearly as parsed as the ones about Roethlisberger and that is because there was no gray in them. Clark, appearing on various ESPN shows after the season, said some of his teammates used marijuana to manage pain because they didn’t want to get addicted to something stronger.

His answers to the question of a larger issue – whether the NFL should consider allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal reasons – were honest, thoughtful and insightful.

They were, in other words, just what networks look for from a player or ex-player to bring fans closer to the game and its inner workings. But, if Brown’s comments are any indication, Clark violated a trust in the eyes of some of his teammates when he said he knew of Steelers players who used marijuana even though he didn’t reveal any names.

Does any of this matter as the Steelers continue to transition from the era in which they went to three Super Bowls from 2005-10 and won two of them? Not really.

But Brown upped the ante on himself when he called out Clark, and he now has to take one of the leads in creating a locker-room atmosphere that doesn’t tolerate distractions or divisions.

In other words he can’t just criticize past leadership. Brown now has to become one of the very leaders that he said the Steelers needed over the last couple of years.

And Clark, rest assured, won't be the only one watching to see if that happens.