JuJu Smith-Schuster has had to deal with his fair share of online haters.
The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver became the focus of opposition fans’ ire last season because of his pre-game routine of performing a dance directly on the logo of the opposition team on the field for his TikTok followers.
With many online commentors finding the act disrespectful – as well as some of his fellow NFL players – Smith-Schuster simply views the criticism as a chance to turn it into something more positive.
“For everyone and all the young athletes who see this, you’re going to have bad days,” the 24-year-old told CNN Sport’s Andy Scholes. “You’re going to have bad games. You have bad plays.
“You’ve got to have that next play mentality. Lucky for us, we play every week, and that’s a good thing. There’s a next practice or the next day where you come back, you get better. And that’s in the past. But all the bad and negativity, you just use as fuel to build more fire to the flame, and you can become better and just use that to motivate you honestly.”
Smith-Schuster’s comments come shortly after the recent social media blackout took place across much of the soccer world, with English Premier League teams and players notably stepping away from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram over three days in protest against online racism and discrimination.
For Smith-Schuster, who himself is a big soccer fan, the Premier League players’ stance was “amazing.”
“I think it’s something that we all see that people deal with throughout their daily life,” Smith-Schuster – who was speaking at the announcement of his partnership with Charmin – said.
“It being a voice and it being heard and everyone supporting, I think it’s an amazing thing. At the end of the day, I think [there are] a lot of people who deal with stuff like this, that goes unknown and they’re scared to speak up and talk about it.”
Back with a vengeance
After a disappointing end to the 2020 season, Smith-Schuster and the Steelers are out to prove a point for the 2021 campaign.
Having started the 2021 season with a franchise-best 11-0 record, the team lost four of their last five games before crashing out of the playoffs to division rivals the Cleveland Browns.
After a few years of prioritizing defensive players, the team picked Alabama running back Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 draft. That change in emphasis could help revolutionize the team, according to Smith-Schuster.
“I told Coach [Mike] Tomlin: ‘Finally, you draft the first offensive player since I’ve been here.’ I think in the past 10 years, he’s been drafting all defensive players in the first round. So that’s super exciting,” explained Smith-Schuster, who signed a one-year contract in the offseason to return to the team that drafted him.
“Even signing a tight end [Pat Freiermuth from Penn State University] in the second round, it’s also super exciting, offensive players, more weapons for us to use and just can’t wait to get back and to dominate the season.”
During the 2021 season, instead of 16 NFL regular season games, there will be an additional game for players to prepare for.
Although it means that fans will get more opportunities to watch their favorite players take the field, an already physically-demanding sport will become even more taxing.
It’s change that could result in NFL careers being shortened as a result, according to Smith-Schuster.
“It takes a lot on your body. It takes a toll, especially if you’re an older guy, like an older vet, it will probably take more of a toll on you,” he said.
“You’re talking about practicing every day, three or four times throughout the week and then going in and basically just smashing out and hitting each other.
“That [extra game] goes from playing in the league for 10 years to playing in the league for like six, seven years.”