Now, you should consider him ruined. He is an all-pro player with Hall of Fame productivity, but he finds himself desperate for a job. He is looking to be on his fourth team of 2019 after lasting just 11 days with the New England Patriots. The six-time Super Bowl champions released Brown on Friday because he refuses to cease his scoundrel act. The hard-working and joyful free spirit who relished in his delightful rise to stardom, from sixth-round draft pick to superstar, is gone. What’s left is a bullying, insubordinate, pompous jock who has been accused twice of sexual misconduct and recently shown little respect for authority.
It is getting hard to believe Brown lasted in Pittsburgh for nine seasons. Since his behavior (including quitting on the team in Week 17 last season) forced the Steelers to trade him in March, Brown had a bizarre six-month stint with the Oakland Raiders in which he never played a down. He did play a game in New England and even caught a touchdown pass from Tom Brady. Consider it progress, I guess. But less than two weeks on the job? Not progress.
In announcing they had cut Brown, the Patriots released an all-time statement of understated exasperation: “The New England Patriots are releasing Antonio Brown. We appreciate the hard work of many people over the past 11 days, but we feel that it is best to move in a different direction at this time.”
I’m still stuck on the “hard work of many people” part. It takes a village to try to keep Antonio Brown from being Antonio Brown.
It also takes a village to make an athlete already facing a sexual assault lawsuit feel so untouchable that he would threaten another accuser in a text-message thread. In a revealing Sports Illustrated investigation detailing Brown’s recent history of disturbing behavior, a second woman came forward and alleged Brown made an “unwanted sexual advance.” With so much heat already on him, how did Brown respond to that? By reportedly including the new accuser on a text-message thread with his buddies and trying to intimidate her. By going so far as to send a photo of her children, accusing the woman of being a groupie and telling his henchmen to “look up her background history.”
After his recklessness ruined all the good relationships he had established in Pittsburgh, after it cost him a $30 million guarantee in Oakland, after the Patriots gave him the chance to turn his self-sabotaging acts into the ultimate golden parachute, he could not shut up, behave, catch passes from the greatest winner in NFL history and rebuild his credibility. He had to act above reproach, which is how the NFL mistakenly taught him to act. He had to provide more written proof that, when disagreeing with women, he will belittle them in the most vulgar or vilest way he can imagine.
Actually, that is how Brown now responds to everyone, male or female, who challenges the notion that he should be allowed to do whatever the hell he wants. Oakland General Manager Mike Mayock, whom Brown confronted after being fined, can attest. And NFL teams cannot pretend to be victims, either. They were complicit in creating this monster because they believed him to be too special, too tireless a worker and, lately, too available to dismiss.
Pittsburgh failed to discipline Brown adequately as he rose to fame. Oakland was too understanding during the fiascoes with his frostbitten feet and helmet grievances.
New England was more concerned with extending its dynasty than fully vetting him. The Patriots rushed to sign him because, if they had not, a competitor would have.
That is what I mean by competitive negligence. The NFL is so legislated for parity that teams stampede toward any potential acquisition that would allow them to beat the system. The Patriots signed Brown to a one-year, $15 million contract, only $9 million of which was to be guaranteed.
His total compensation in Oakland would’ve been $50 million over three years. It is rare to get one of the most dynamic players in football for such a reasonable commitment. Brown had become a cancer, but to many teams, he was something far more desirable: a market inefficiency.
There is nothing wrong with giving players second or third or even fourth chances, in some cases. Some players reform and prosper; others turn into forgiveness leeches. We should all be realistic enough to know the deal in professional sports: Talent dictates compassion, always. These games are about money and winning. Role models are preferred but not essential. The civic pride they inspire is rather pliable. Teams know fans can tolerate a stunning amount of indecency if it results in victories that make them feel superior.
In this environment, Brown can develop a sense of entitlement. He can think he is the victim instead of the problem. But finally, three teams and six chaotic months later, he might get what he deserves: extended unemployment.
You have not heard the last of Brown. He can still play. Even after all the buffoonery and missed practices, he came to a new team and made an impact last week even though he had just started learning the Patriots’ playbook. Being cut by the best team in football will make plenty of franchises resist the urge to sign Brown. But need will cause some squad to trick itself into thinking it can handle him.
The question is how long it will take Brown, 31, to get back into the league he once dominated. It could be a few weeks or a few months. It depends on how Brown, who fancies himself a social media influencer, behaves. It also should depend on how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reacts after interviewing his first accuser and receiving documentation from the other of Brown’s text-message harassment.
It is best for the game — and for a player who needs immense humbling — that Brown be shelved until 2020, pending resolution or further investigation into these allegations of rape and sexual misconduct. The NFL can hide behind the fact that this is not a criminal case, or it can do a serious investigation to determine whether there is a risk Brown will further damage the reputation of a league that often fails to do right by women.
With every chance he has been given, Brown humiliates the sport that made him. He is regressing to his humble beginnings. His previous reliability is now fool’s gold. Believe in it, and be deceived. There is no gold — just Brown, a self-made fool, using all the rope he has been given, sabotaging his own greatness.