(Photo by Kohjiro Kinno/Getty Images)
JuJu Smith-Schuster is one of the most popular players in the NFL, but at the same time, he's also a polarizing figure for his off-the-field activities, which makes some believe that he's not fully focused on football at times.
Smith-Schuster is a social media influencer and has a fun-loving personality, which attracts plenty of branding and marketing opportunities for himself.
Smith-Schuster said on “The Michael Irvin Podcast” recently that he has NFL players hit him up all the time and ask how do you do marketing?
"I started TikTok, you know, TikTok's always been a huge thing," Smith-Schuster said. "I make a lot of money off of marketing. I'll probably say that I make over $2 million off of marketing because of who I am, and that's off-the-field stuff."
This past season, Smith-Schuster got a lot of criticism for his pregame TikTok dance on opposing teams' logos. It all started in Week 9 against the Cowboys, as he danced on the star at the 50-yard line pregame. His dance didn't become an issue until the Steelers lost to the Bills in Week 14. It was just their second loss of the season. Bills players after the game said they thought what Smith-Schuster did by dancing on their logo was disrespectful and it gave them extra motivation.
Smith-Schuster did it again the following week against the Bengals, and this time the media had the cameras on him before the game. It was becoming a bigger story than it needed to be. The Steelers got upset by the Bengals 27-17 and Smith-Schuster did not have a good game. Late in the first quarter, he took a big hit from Bengals' strong safety Vonn Bell that caused him to fumble the ball and Cincinnati recovered. The Bengals capitalized off the turnover and drove 38 yards down the field and scored a touchdown to take a 10-0 lead. Smith-Schuster had just three receptions for 15 yards in the loss to Cincinnati. Mike Tomlin met with Smith-Schuster a few days later and told him to stop doing the TikTok dance, as it was becoming too much of a distraction to the team.
"They weren't saying anything when I was dancing on the Cowboys logo and then I go ball out and score a touchdown, all that. Everyone is happy, everyone is cool," Smith-Schuster told Irvin about the criticism he received from the media for his pregame stint. "But as soon as we lose and I dance on the logo, everyone is like, 'Oh my gosh that's the reason why they're losing. He's not focused.' If I'm not focused, just go back and look at the stats. Go back and look at my catch radius. I'm doing everything I can for my team. If the coaches put me in a certain situation to make a play, I'm going to make a play. And that's just how I am."
Smith-Schuster said the media made his pregame TikTok dance a bigger deal than it needed to be.
"Media, they try to find headlines and that's how they make their money," Smith-Schuster said. "But at the end of the day, I told coach (Mike) Tomlin I didn't want to be a distraction for my team. At the end of the day I got myself on an NFL Super Bowl commercial and making as much money as I can. It's just about how people want to look at it. If the media wants to portray it one way, but my teammates know how I am and that I do right by the coaches and the team."
Irvin asked Smith-Schuster how his teammates felt about his TikTok dance, and he said they didn't have an issue with it. They supported him being himself.
"They were all supportive of it," Smith-Schuster said of his teammates approving his pregame ritual. "Vinny (Vince Williams), Cam Heyward, they all said, 'keep dancing, that's you bro. Don't change for nobody.' I would understand if I was dancing, dropping balls and dropping touchdowns and messing up my assignment, that would be a different story. But I'm dancing, having fun, doing my job, making my blocks, catching balls, scoring touchdowns and living my best life. It's a team thing, but I don't want to be the head of attention in a bad way so I had to do what was right."
Smith-Schuster is a big personality in the gaming community and he appeared in a Verizon Super Bowl commercial with Samuel L. Jackson a few months ago that promoted a product that was for gamers. Smith-Schuster is going to continue to be himself, regardless of what his naysayers say, as he should be. And he's making a good amount of money off the field for his image. Over $2 million as he stated.