The diva receiver routine is a long-running act in the NFL, from Terrell Owens’s driveway pushups to Keyshawn Johnson’s book, “Just Give Me the Damn Ball!” to Randy Moss’s pretend mooning of the Lambeau Field crowd to Chad Johnson’s mock Hall of Fame jacket on the sideline.
Generally, a team looks the other way and ignores such antics as long as the on-field production warrants it, then moves on when the headaches outweigh the gratification of the results on the field. The Pittsburgh Steelers reached that point with Antonio Brown this past offseason, accommodating the trade wish of the productive but increasingly disgruntled star by sending him to the Oakland Raiders.
Brown has yet to play a game for the Raiders. He hasn’t even been practicing. So for the Raiders, there is no on-field production to offset the chagrin that team officials are probably experiencing as they deal with Brown’s act, which is in full force.
He has been plagued by ailing feet, a situation reportedly caused or aggravated when Brown failed to wear proper footwear at a cryotherapy treatment. He has been away from the team, reportedly seeking further medical advice. There have been several reports that Brown cut off communication with the Raiders at least temporarily. NFL Network reported that Brown has showed up late to team meetings and regularly has not been attentive in them when he does show up.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, Brown is at odds with the league over wanting to wear his favorite helmet even though the model has been discontinued by the manufacturer, and is more than 10 years old and therefore not certified by the national governing body. The NFL says that Brown must switch to an approved helmet to be on the field. So Brown filed a grievance, which was heard Friday by an independent arbitrator. No immediate ruling was made.
Brown is, inarguably, a great player, a seven-time Pro Bowler with the Steelers who has topped 1,200 receiving yards in each of the past six seasons. But he also is a player who has been enabled along the way. He got his way in forcing the trade by the Steelers. That deal was accompanied by a new contract with the Raiders worth $50.125 million over three years.
According to ESPN, Brown has told the Raiders that he will not play football again unless he’s allowed to wear his old helmet. He’s unlikely to get his way this time.
Barring an unexpected decision in Brown’s favor, the NFL policy will be upheld and Brown will be told to wear an approved helmet or not play. Several people familiar with the testing program said they expect the NFL to prevail. The helmet model in question, the Schutt AiR Advantage, was given an “adequate” rating and was ranked 13th out of 15 helmet models tested in a May 2012 evaluation by Virginia Tech.
Schutt said in a 2014 written statement by a marketing executive to a Texas television station: “For its time, the AiR Advantage was a very successful helmet for us. Its light weight made it very popular with skill position players, who want to be as fast as they can. ... We discontinued making the helmet three years ago because current helmet technology had moved past it.”
Brown’s union is on board with the league’s approach to improving helmet performance in the name of player safety. The NFL Players Association conducts joint laboratory testing with the league of various helmet models, evaluating them on their performance in impact tests. Under that program, helmet models that perform poorly are prohibited. The 32 NFL players who wore prohibited models last season were told that they no longer would be permitted to wear them this season.
Players aren’t told which helmet model to wear. They are given a variety of approved models and can choose among them. League officials regard the helmet-testing program as a significant component of their push to curb the number of concussions suffered by players. Concussions were down 24 percent last season, according to the league’s injury data.
NFL safety officials have acknowledged that some players are so accustomed to their old helmets that, for performance reasons, they are reluctant to switch. But they are being given no choice, all in the name of furthering player safety. The NFL, remember, reached a $1 billion settlement with former players who sued over the effects of head injuries.
Among those players being forced to switch helmets, only Brown has filed a grievance. So he’ll have a choice to make. He can show up, wear a different helmet, play football, and get paid. Or he can stay home and not get paid.
It will be, in all likelihood, up to him.
Read more on the NFL: