As a three-year varsity football starter and Patriots fan, I felt compelled to cover this story in-depth from my viewpoint.
"The Thief Has a Burning Hat"
I know it's a funny expression, but in the case of the troubled star, the hat fits. The meaning is that guilty people unintentionally expose themselves by their gestures, expressions, or behavior. As the effusive former Eagles cornerback and Jets head coach Herm Edwards once said, “Don’t press send!” Had Antonio Brown aka ‘Tony Toe Tap’ heeded this advice, he’d probably still have a job.
Despite being fairly characterized as a locker room cancer, teams were still willing to give him a shot because of the one common denominator in all of this—the guy’s a special talent. Following a laundry list of bizarre and downright annoying behavior, the AB roller coaster fell completely off the rails after it took a gravely serious turn. An allegation of rape and sexual assault on multiple occasions was the beginning of the end for Brown, but not exactly in a way you’d imagine.
Simply put, Antonio Brown has a social media problem. He, dare I say it, has an obsession. It all started in the Steelers locker room after a big win where head coach Mike Tomlin was giving a post-game speech in which he made reference to his upcoming New England Patriots opponents using some colorful language.
Now, I and many others didn’t see the big deal of Tomlin referring to his opponents in an unflattering way (this is a professional football locker room full of grown adults). That wasn’t the issue; the issue was that Brown decided to record the speech on Facebook Live, and roughly 40,000 people saw and heard it in real time.
"Keep Cool on Social Media"
The kicker of all this is that, according to Tom E. Curran of CSN New England, “someone, probably a player, can be heard on the video following Tomlin’s speech, cautioning players to be careful what they put out on social media this week. ‘Keep cool on social media’, they said. ‘This is about us, nobody else.’ " Also, if you want to get technical, according to NFL insider Adam Schefter, “NFL policy prohibits players from posting messages on any social media platform 90 minutes before kickoff through post-game interviews.”
Was this a cardinal sin? No, but it’s the first in a long line of social media faux pas that would give people the impression that he should de-platform himself and shift the focus to football as opposed to likes and views on social media.
See You Later, Steeltown!
The first stop on the crazy train would be Brown’s final stop in Pittsburgh. After receiving a fine for the Facebook Live video, later reports would come to light from sources in and around the Steelers organization that the all-pro wide receiver's mood had soured, and a disgruntled and apathetic Brown was now roaming the halls of the facilities.
The Confrontation With Roethlisberger
This culminated into a heated dispute with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during a walk-through prior to a crucial week 17 game against Cincinnati. During the confrontation, Brown chucked a football at Big Ben and then decided to skip the rest of the week's practices leading up to the Sunday showdown. Coach Mike Tomlin was forced to bench AB for the game, which the Steelers went on to win anyway.
Strangely, Brown showed up on the day of the game expecting to play and was present on the sidelines in a fur coat à la Joe Namath. He left at halftime of the game, and the writing on the wall was glaringly clear—he wanted out of Pittsburgh altogether.
Not an Isolated Incident
Teammates of Brown would later reveal that this had been brewing for awhile and it was not an isolated incident. Concessions and exceptions were made during his entire tenure with the Steelers by coach Mike Tomlin with the idea that, as long as he produced on gameday, they’d tolerate the unprofessionalism. I guess one would surmise that by looking the other way, Tomlin created this monster and should accept significant culpability.
Before I get into the circus that was his short stint in Oakland, it’s important to highlight a quote Brown gave to an ESPN reporter that leads me to believe his current state of mind is unhinged and that we may be dealing with one of the biggest narcissists this league has ever seen.
"I don't even have to play football if I don't want," he told Jeff Darlington of ESPN. "I don't even need the game. I don't need to prove nothing to anyone. If they wanna play, they going to play by my rules. If not, I don't need to play. Obviously, I want the game, but I don't need the game. It's a difference."
I’m sure this statement wasn’t exactly what GMs around the league wanted to hear, so you may be asking yourself, who would touch a guy like that? The Oakland Raiders, that's who. When now-deceased owner Al Davis established the culture of “Just win baby!,” I wonder if he’d ask himself, “but at what cost?,’ had he been alive to witness the signing and consequent madhouse created by Brown at the Raiders off-season training camp.
The Oakland Deal
In any event, Oakland regrettably inked a deal with Brown for three years/$50 million, including $30 million guaranteed. It was all sunshine and rainbows at the start of this relationship and . . . what’s that? Nothing, just Antonio Brown arriving to camp in a hot air balloon, how fun!
My Way or the Highway
Let the games begin! Almost immediately after AB began donning the black and silver, reports began to surface that he didn’t like his new helmet and was adamant about wearing the one he’s worn the past nine seasons.
The Helmet Problem
Problem is, that particular helmet had been banned by the NFL due to safety standards. Furthermore, players were given notice for five years that the helmet changes were coming and were also provided 30 different helmet options to choose from. This wasn’t good enough, and Brown began openly clashing with coaches at OTAs over the issue, and he even went as far as to leave the practice field and then attempt to sneak his old helmet back onto the field—by trying to paint it to mirror the mandated helmets.
That’s not the worst of it, unfortunately. He then threatened to retire from the NFL if he couldn’t wear the decertified helmet! The issue was eventually resolved, but it’s interesting to note that out of the 2,000 players in the league during the time of training camp, only one man had an issue, and that was Antonio Brown.
Brown's Cryotherapy Burns
Raiders officials and teammates alike were hoping that was the last of the headaches brought on by Brown, but he was just getting his feet wet—or burnt? A new report surfaced that Antonio was injured in practice, but when the media found out the specifics, the realm of the bizarre was entered once again.
While using a cryotherapy tank for recovery, he severely burned the bottoms of his feet after not wearing the proper footwear required. Hearkening back to my point, he posted the grotesque image on his Instagram for the world to see. Why we needed to see that, I still don’t know.
The Last Straw: Brown vs. Mayock
After these events, you probably thought it couldn’t get worse. It seemed that way, after things appeared to have quieted down, until NFL insider Adam Schefter reported that there was a blow-up between Brown and GM Mike Mayock. According to the report, the two shared a heated disagreement leading to Brown threatening to punch Mayock in the face before punting a football and remarking, “fine me for that.”
Social Media Again
Under the threat of indefinite suspension, AB apologized to his teammates, which compelled coach Jon Gruden not to suspend him for week one. However, Antonio Brown would again shoot himself in the foot by posting a near two-minute private phone conversation with Gruden (illegal in California without consent by the way) to his official YouTube page later that night!
We’re not done yet. The following morning saw an Instagram post from Brown imploring the Raiders to release him, which consequently resulted in a $200,000 fine and a void of the $29 million of his guarantee. Later on that day, the Raiders finally threw up their hands and released the embattled wide receiver.
AB to the Pats?
Shortly after the release, Brown posted a picture of himself in a New England Patriots uniform, announcing his signing with the team.
This is the part where I must editorialize as a lifelong Pats fan who lives in the Boston area. When the announcement first came in, I had mixed emotions. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with having a locker room distraction come through Foxborough, especially given the fact that the Patriots offense was already looking like a well-oiled machine firing on all cylinders. I thought about it some more, however, and ended up changing my tune, tweeting out that, “It’s a win-win for the Patriots because if he even sneezes too loud Belichick will send him packing.”
All seemed to be working out swimmingly and Brown even caught a touchdown in Miami in his first game with his new team. However, I was quickly reminded of the old idiom that says, “when you entertain a clown you become part of the circus.”
This is the part where things get serious and it becomes bigger than football for me. Let me preface my comments by saying that people are entitled to innocence until proven guilty. Before he even stepped on the field for New England, a civil lawsuit was filed by an ex-trainer of Brown in which the woman alleges that he sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions over the last three years, including one forcible rape. I was well aware of it, but again, I think people deserve their day in court to establish guilt or innocence.
The idea that this accusation exists, coupled with this guy’s severe track record of impropriety, gave me cause to pause, but the final straw for me that effectively solidified my opinion on this guy was his threatening text messages to a second accuser that had come forward. I won’t get into details, but among other things, he posted a picture of the accuser's children and asked an associate to dig up dirt on her. The Patriots released Brown shortly after this report came out by Sports Illustrated.
It’s obvious this man has issues, but hearkening back to my point, social media does this guy no favors. Like Coach Edwards said, “Don’t press send.” Clearly, he can’t help himself, and I hope he realizes by now that every time he presses send, he’s digging himself a deeper and deeper grave.
Antonio Brown is a case study of the pitfalls of social media and how addiction to it can be a blessing and a curse—but more so a curse. Presence on social media can likely make you more money, help secure endorsements, and raise your cachet, but it can also expose parts of your identity that aren’t so flattering or endearing to people.
On the flip-side, you can be whoever you want to be behind the shield of a Twitter handle or YouTube channel. You can project to people what you want them to see; not necessarily who you are. So when reality smacks you in the face, don’t be surprised by how people receive you.
You can put out a hundred Bible quotes a day and flash a gleaning white simper in each and every one of your photos, but eventually you’re going to have to practice what you preach and live up to your self-created image. AB’s increasing obsession with social media has exposed him as a fool.