Antonio Brown interview becomes the key piece of the NFL’s investigation

Mike Florio

The NFL reportedly has secured 10 hours of information from Britney Taylor, the woman who has accused Patriots receiver Antonio Brown of sexual assault and rape. Eventually, the league will talk to Brown. And that interview will becomes a key piece of the investigation.

The extent to which league investigators found Taylor credible isn’t known — and it won’t be known until the NFL begins to make decisions about whether to place Brown on paid leave or to punish him with a suspension or a banishment. If her story seems believable to the league, Brown’s story will need to be more believable. And there’s a chance that Brown simply won’t be a good witness, regardless of whether he’s telling the truth.

Brown has navigated his way through plenty of delicate situations by relying heavily on a broad, electric smile. He’ll need more to persuade the league that he didn’t do what he is accused of doing, especially in light of messages sent to Taylor that, on their face, seem to corroborate portions of her allegations. How will he explain those? Will he be combative or belligerent when challenged with tough questions, or will he concede what he needs to concede in order to be believed as to the most important questions regarding whether he sexually assaulted or raped Taylor?

Last Tuesday night, Brown’s lawyer issued a sweeping denial of all allegations in the civil complaint filed by Taylor. That’s an unrealistic, and technically untrue, characterization of the lawsuit. While Taylor may not be telling the truth as to the most critical aspects of the lawsuit, there surely is plenty of truth contained in the complaint as it is written.

If Brown is wired to simply deny everything Taylor says, the league will need to corroborate only portions of her allegations with objective evidence to justify a full and complete rejection of his story. He’ll need to be able to set aside the frustration inherent to being accused of something he believes he didn’t do, and to provide calm, reasoned, and factually accurate answers.

And make no mistake about it — the league’s investigators are trained to assess credibility as to small issues in order to get a feel for credibility as to big issues. If he can be caught in a lie as to facts that don’t go to the heart of the matter, it becomes far easier to assume he’s not telling the truth as to the allegations that go to the core of the case.

It therefore will be incumbent on Brown’s camp to get him prepared to face the interrogation to come. He’s not a lawyer but a witness, and when the time comes to answer questions he needs to answer them clearly, directly, and dispassionately. If he strays into becoming an advocate for his position, he runs the risk of engaging in swordplay with the person who is questioning him instead of simply submitting to the process.

The challenge for the league becomes assessing Taylor’s story from the perspective of whether she has provided enough proof to convince the Commissioner that Brown “may have violated” the Personal Conduct Policy. If she has, the league will be justified in placing Brown on paid leave while the investigation proceeeds.

It’s also possible that, before doing so, the league will conduct a preliminary interview with Brown aimed at confirming any suspicion that he “may have violated” the policy, with a more exacting session happening after the Commissioner exercises his broad powers to take Brown off the field pending the completion of the league’s work.

Regardless of how it plays out, the fact that the league devoted so much time on Monday to talking to Brown’s accuser shows that the matter is being taken seriously. Which suggests that the league realizes the potential damage to The Shield that comes from letting Brown play under the cloud of allegations that the league potentially finds to be credible based on a 10-hour interview of the person who is making them.

In other words, the league can at any time place Brown on the Commissioner-Exempt list. Likewise, if the Patriots become aware of evidence that gives credence to the allegations made against Brown in a civil lawsuit, the Patriots could decide to sever ties with him, without any advance warning or notice.

So even though it seems that the situation has died down, it hasn’t. And the work that currently is happening outside of the view of the public could lead, sooner than later, to major decisions affecting Brown’s ability to continue to play football.