“Hard Knocks” committed another fumble Tuesday, a week after giving viewers nothing new on Antonio Brown’s injured feet and the reports of a cryotherapy mishap.
This week, the HBO show offered plenty on those feet — including Brown’s description of them as “circumcised” — but not nearly enough on his helmet saga.
That story quickly overtook the discussion of Brown’s feet this week and became the NFL world’s most irresistible talking point, as the Raiders wide receiver was reported to be livid over an NFL policy mandating that he discard his long-preferred helmet for a new version deemed better at preventing head injuries. Adding intrigue was the fact that Brown had left training camp after a couple of days, ostensibly to tend to his injured feet, and was reportedly not communicating much with the team.
That created enormous anticipation for Tuesday’s episode of “Hard Knocks,” given that HBO was enjoying behind-the-scenes access to Oakland’s training camp and the lives of some of its participants. Appetites were whetted even further in the wake of a Twitter thread posted Friday by NFL Network’s Mike Silver, in which he cited four sources familiar with the situation in reporting that, among other incidents, Brown had tried to sneak his banned helmet into Raiders practices and went so far as to try to repaint an old model.
Silver followed that up by saying Monday on NFL Network, “Raider officials are now concerned that, based on what [Brown] has been telling players, one of the reasons he has since stayed away from training camp for several days now is that he is very upset about this helmet issue. The whole thing has created a disconnect, with Raiders coaches and officials wondering, ‘Is this salvageable?’”
There was some mention on “Hard Knocks” this week of the helmet standoff, but mostly heard in snippets from news reports, as well as from Raiders radio voice Brent Musberger before a preseason game against the Rams. While Raiders Coach Jon Gruden was shown at times expressing unhappiness about Brown’s absence, none of his many colorful comments throughout the episode specifically referenced the issue that was on everyone else’s mind all week.
That led to complaints online Tuesday evening that the NFL and the Raiders, who have final say over what HBO can show, were doing a disservice to viewers. If “Hard Knocks” can’t provide any insight into a saga as lurid as that of Brown and his anger over the helmet policy, some wondered, then what’s the point of the watching it?
As for the issue of Brown’s feet, it was essentially a day late and a viral moment short, but “Hard Knocks” viewers got caught up on that this week. In fact, more than some may have wanted, at least in terms of close-up shots of the badly damaged skin on his soles.
Brown was shown saying he was in Paris on vacation when he tried “cold therapy” to help his body recover, but when he got out of a cryotherapy chamber he felt his feet “burning.” He said they swelled up over the next 24 hours to the point where he had trouble walking, after which a doctor helped “let it leak all out.”
“Now it’s just, like, new skin. I’m just trying to get my feet used to feeling that,” Brown said, “but I feel like I’ve just got a … big whoopee cushion, you know?”
There was no mention of whether he was wearing improper footgear in the cryotherapy chamber, or if so, whose fault that might have been. Viewers did see Brown make this unexpected comment: “My feet is pretty much getting circumcised, right?"
Brown had allayed some fears about his possible disaffection from the Raiders with a tweet on Monday in which he said he was “working on getting back to full health and looking forward to rejoining my teammates on the field,” adding, “I’m excited about this season [and] appreciate all the concerns about my feet!”
That tweet followed a ruling against him by an arbitrator in a grievance Brown had filed with the NFL, demanding that he be allowed to use his old helmet. A model he had worn for all 10 of his previous years in the league, but long since discontinued by its manufacturer, the helmet had been phased out per the terms of an agreement between the NFL and its players union.
However, Brown may have been able to find a loophole in the policy enabling him to wear his preferred helmet if he could get his hands on versions produced within the past 10 years. According to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, the wide receiver was able to do just that on Tuesday, and that was apparently enough to coax him into returning to training camp.
Or perhaps Brown’s feet were simply feeling better, and he would have shown up again on Tuesday regardless of the helmet situation. All “Hard Knocks” viewers could be sure about was the fact that Brown was back, because the program showed brief footage of his re-arrival at camp at the very end of the episode.
In fairness, the timing of Brown’s return was far from ideal for HBO, which reportedly needs to have a final version of each installment finished by 2:45 p.m. Eastern (the show airs at 10 p.m. on the East Coast).
Still, much more — i.e., anything — could have been shown of the reactions from the previous several days of Gruden and other Raiders officials to Brown’s ire over his helmet. Not to mention any footage of him being told at camp he couldn’t wear his old model, or any discussion by players or coaches of the NFL’s policy.
That is, if the Raiders had allowed such footage to reach the public. Instead, it would seem, what happens in the training camp of a team soon to move to Las Vegas, all too often stays in the training camp of a team soon to move to Las Vegas.
But wait! A teaser for the next episode promised viewers “the fallout” from Brown’s “helmet dispute."
Of course, by that time, if the first two installments of “Hard Knocks” are any indication, the mercurial Brown will likely have moved on to an even more bizarre episode, and the HBO show will be again stuck playing catch-up.
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