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Just an hour after his release on Friday by the New England Patriots, Antonio Brown tweeted: “the marathon continues.”
Hopefully Brown wasn’t referring to his football career because if he was, the proper response to that is simple — you sure?
Brown, one of the NFL’s most gifted wideouts in the past decade, has been a tornado of drama since last year, more so in the past two months. He forced his way out of Oakland with an array of defiant behavior, and saw his short-lived Patriots career end following the fallout from sexual assault and sexual misconduct allegations. He is facing a pending civil lawsuit in federal court on the former.
At this point, there’s no doubt that playing football immediately should be the absolute last thing on his mind. Yet, here he was again on Twitter on Friday, demonstrating his inability to fully understand his current situation.
In addition to his “marathon” message, Brown announced his own dismissal, saying, “Thank you for the opportunity @Patriots” and later writing, “Just got fired on a Friday,” a reference to an iconic line in the 1994 classic comedy “Friday.” What’s more, Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, tweeted that Brown “wants to play the game he loves and he hopes to play for another team soon.”
There’s really no humor here. Any rational human being would say: good luck with that, at least for the time being.
Don’t be deluded about how the NFL functions and how the sausage is made. It is the ultimate performance league, one where elite players who can help teams win — and thus, the coaches and executives employed with their million-dollar salaries — get longer leashes than others.
But now, we’ve entered territory where Brown is radioactive to every NFL team, at least for the time being. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty in the court of law, but the court of public opinion is another matter. Any team willing to sign a player with sexual misconduct and rape allegations is begging to get crushed by fans, media and impartial observers alike. And rightfully so.
The league issued a statement Friday night, acknowledging its investigation of Brown and the allegations he’s facing. The statement read:
“We have as yet made no findings regarding these issues. The investigation is ongoing and will be pursued vigorously and expeditiously.
"As long as Mr. Brown is a free agent, placement on the Commissioner's exempt list is not appropriate. If he is signed by a club, such placement may become appropriate at any time depending on the status of the investigation. Upon the conclusion of the investigation, he may also be subject to discipline if the investigation finds that he has violated the law or league policies.
Good luck trying to prepare for a game with that going on, and if you want to know what that looks like, check out Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s news conference on Friday. Belichick is unflappable for sure, but after a barrage of Brown questions, he had enough and walked away from the podium.
If Belichick and the Patriots decided Brown wasn’t worth the hassle, why would anyone else? Especially when, after signing him and absorbing that huge public relations nightmare, he could still end up on the commissioner’s exempt list and not be allowed to play – with a team still footing the salary.
At this point, Brown has to prioritize getting his off-field affairs in order. The sexual assault lawsuit must resolve itself as it makes its way through the court system, and even then, the NFL will continue to investigate that case and the sexual misconduct allegation against him. The ugly text messages he allegedly sent following the second woman’s public accusation could serve as means for discipline as well.
What’s more, Brown’s release means the NFL isn’t under a time crunch, so the investigation can be thorough and teams will likely stay out of it until everything is resolved. If Brown doesn’t understand that now, there’s a good chance he will be confronted with that reality soon.
Beyond that? Maybe — maybe — if and when all the aforementioned issues are resolved, he’ll then be afforded the opportunity to work on climbing the other mountain in front of him, which is convincing teams that they won’t have to worry about him duplicating the circus that surrounded him in Oakland.
That will prove to be a tough chore. No matter how talented a player is, teams will eventually reach their breaking point. The Raiders proved that by cutting him six months after surrendering a pair of draft picks for him, and the Patriots just cut bait with far less lost on their part.
Teams hate distractions, and you have to go back years to find a bigger distraction on an NFL roster than Brown.
Brown’s age (he turns 32 next year) is working against him. Add that to his recent troubles, it’s possible to envision a scenario where Brown never plays in the NFL again, even if he apparently can’t (or simply won’t) see it.
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