Report: In grievance hearing, Antonio Brown said he'd hold NFL liable if injured in new helmet

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·Yahoo Sports Columnist
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It’s Monday, and like all good soap operas, that means there’s a new day of drama in the bonkers Antonio Brown helmet story.

The story to this point

In case you’re new to this story, the Oakland Raiders receiver is angry that he can’t continue wearing the helmet he’s worn for over a decade and must change to a new one.

Brown has been wearing the same Schutt Air Advantage helmet for 12 years. He’s so wedded to it that he reportedly has been battling with Raiders officials and equipment personnel for months, even going so far as painting his helmet himself (or getting someone else to do it), though it wasn’t a perfect match to Oakland’s paint job.

Oakland Raiders receiver Antonio Brown doesn't want to wear a different helmet. (AP)
Oakland Raiders receiver Antonio Brown doesn't want to wear a different helmet. (AP)

At least one player or coach has said Brown’s stance is “honestly the most insane thing I’ve ever heard.”

Five years ago, the NFL and NFL Players Association began testing helmets and ranking them. In April 2018, the NFL and NFLPA announced that 10 helmet models were going to be banned — six of them immediately, with four getting a one-year grace period.

Brown, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers were among those who spent 2018 wearing helmets that are now banned. Brady and Rodgers have switched (though Brady said Monday he’s not thrilled with his but he doesn’t have a choice), but Brown is almost inexplicably digging his heels in.

While Brown is dealing with some sort of frost burn-related foot issue, multiple reports say he has left the Raiders because of the helmet issue and won’t return until it’s resolved.

Report: If Brown gets hurt in new helmet, he’d hold NFL liable

Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic reports that Brown’s grievance hearing happened on Friday in Philadelphia. His attorney, Darren Heitner, NFL Management Council general counsel Larry Ferazani and an NFLPA representative were present, and Brown attended by phone.

Brown’s side warned the league during the hearing that if he suffers a head injury in a new, approved-model helmet that he’s being forced to wear, he’ll hold the NFL liable, a source told Kaplan.

The helmet guidelines and rules — teams can be punished for allowing a player to wear a prohibited helmet — were put in place in large part to protect the league from such action due to the 2016 head trauma settlement with former players.

As Kaplan wrote, Brown’s helmet is no longer certified by the National Operating Committee for Standards and Athletic Equipment, or NOCSAE. The rating group stops testing equipment 10 years after the product in is the market.

The NFL is arguing that since all helmets must be NOCSAE certified, Brown’s helmet cannot meet league standards.

But Kaplan’s source said Brown’s side is arguing that the ban is arbitrary, because Brown’s helmet, the specific one he actually wears, has not been tested. The player and his representatives asked why Brown’s helmet, which was NOCSAE certified in 2008, was not tested.

Section 14 of the standard NFL player contract requires adherence to all “reasonable” rules.

Brown’s team seemed to focus on that, Kaplan reported, contending that banning his helmet had no grounds in science or facts.

“You know, we need to look at the specifics of what Antonio needs to make him feel safe on the field,” Kaplan’s source said, noting that in Brown’s 10 year-career he’s suffered only one documented concussion, on an illegal hit from Vontaze Burfict in January 2016.

Decision expected this week

A decision is expected this week on Brown’s case; Kaplan wrote that because the collective bargaining agreement and player contracts give the NFL a good amount of latitude when it comes to issues of health and safety, it’s expected that the decision will be in favor of the NFL.

If Brown were to win, it would set a precedent in allowing players to challenge these types of rules.

The NFL/NFLPA helmet rule rated 17 models in the top-performing group last year, giving Brown plenty of options to choose from. Another seven were rated acceptable.

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