No player in the NFL has received more attention in 2019 than Antonio Brown and rightfully so.
Over the past six months, the star wide receiver’s actions have dominated much of the NFL’s news cycle. Some would dub them “antics” or “turbulent behavior,” and they wouldn’t be wrong. Brown has been no stranger to controversy during his time in the NFL, but this year feels different.
From his unorthodox haircuts to his on-field emotion to his jaw-dropping talent, Brown has remained a beloved, if polarizing, figure for most of his career. As a Pittsburgh Steeler, he picked up the torch from receiving royalty like Santonio Holmes and Mike Wallace and ran with it, reaching the Pro Bowl in seven out of his nine years with the team.
Sure, he butted heads with a Super Bowl-winning coach and quarterback sometimes, but one of those people is Ben Roethlisberger, who is difficult to get along with himself! Brown’s an emotional guy, and Pittsburgh isn’t a place that deals well with that. Conflict makes sense — that’s why it didn’t feel like news earlier this year when we found out there was a real disconnect between Brown and the organization. It’s the situation, duh!
Oh, but it wasn’t. Brown’s recent domination of sports headlines began in December, when his tension with the Steelers boiled over. He refused to suit up for the pivotal regular season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals. It was a bad look. Pittsburgh didn’t make the playoffs, and Brown was traded in March to the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders offered Brown a three-year contract worth over $50 million with $30 million in guaranteed money, a payoff Brown had sought despite becoming the league’s highest paid receiver in 2017. Brown seemed content. After all, as he likes to say, business was boomin’.
But then he showed up to training camp with frostbitten feet. Weird, but okay. Then he flat-out refused to play without his specific model of helmet, which had become outdated according to a rule that every other player seemed to accept in stride. That was weirder. He followed that up with some questionable social media posts, one referencing a fine the team gave him and one that included a recording of a phone call with Raiders head coach Jon Gruden in which Gruden questioned Brown’s commitment to the team. When that didn’t go over so well, he went to the Raiders facility and delivered a fiery rant that peaked with him calling general manager Mike Mayock a cracker. What?
Whew, did I recap all of that okay? Oh wait, he also asked the team to release him via social media, and it did. He recorded his reaction to the news of his release and posted it to YouTube. Classic. Oh, and the defending Super Bowl champions signed him just hours later on a one-year, $15 million contract. Business is boomin’ again.
You’d think this would be the logical end to the Antonio Brown saga, but you’d be wrong. In fact, Brown’s string of unpredictable behavior took a sinister turn Tuesday night when The New York Times reported that Brown’s former trainer, Britney Taylor, had filed a civil lawsuit against him for sexual assault and rape. WTF?
From what’s known so far, the details of the case are both disturbing and confusing. Leaked text messages from Brown to Taylor reflect his erratic persona in the most bizarre ways possible and seem to confirm a relationship between the two.
Brown says the relationship was consensual, and his attorneys allegedly plan to follow up with a countersuit against Taylor. Reports also surfaced Sunday that Brown rejected a $2 million settlement and maintains his innocence as the lawsuit moves to court.
In the meantime, because it’s a civil case, Brown is free to play football while the investigation continues.
We’re all asking the same question: Who the hell can get away with all of this? It’s exhausting just to summarize it — I can’t imagine being his coach. But seriously, 99% of the league would be gone after even one of Brown’s many mistakes. Is it clichéd to remind you that all Colin Kaepernick did was take a knee?
Again, there’s no denying that Brown is talented. And in this world, talented people can make the kinds of mistakes many others can’t. But how many mistakes can he make before you set him straight? It’s a pattern of behavior the NFL can’t keep allowing from whatever team is willing to rent his talents until it eventually grows tired of him.
It’s far too early to take a confident stance on this case, but it’s a horrific cap on what’s been a crippling year for Brown’s reputation. That’s a shame for a player who’s so often praised by fellow players for his passion, positivity and work ethic on the field. Now, it’s up to him to prove it off the field as much as he does on it.
Matthew Philips is a senior writing about football. He is also a former lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Catch or No Catch,” runs every other Tuesday.