Roger Goodell signals shift in NFL's investigation of Antonio Brown

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MIAMI – If there was any doubt that the NFL has been keeping tabs on the latest turns in Antonio Brown’s life, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell dispelled it on Wednesday.

In what appears to be a fairly dramatic turn in the league’s ongoing personal conduct investigation into Brown, Goodell said in his “State of the NFL” address on Wednesday that the league is now looking first and foremost at the “well-being” of the former NFL star wideout. This comes after Brown has been involved in a string of incidents involving the Hollywood (Fla.) Police department, the most recent of which ended with Brown and his personal trainer being charged in an alleged burglary and battery incident involving a moving truck driver. It was during a bond hearing stemming from that charge that a county prosecutor revealed that police have been called to Brown’s Miami residence 18 times since December.

Brown pleaded not guilty to the battery and burglary incident, which alleges he refused to pay a moving fee and then assaulted a truck driver while forcibly removing and damaging contents inside the vehicle earlier this month. Brown’s trainer was arrested shortly after the driver called police, while Brown locked himself inside his residence and refused to answer the door. A warrant was eventually issued for Brown’s arrest, leaving him to surrender to police and then spend one night in Broward County Jail before posting $110,000 bond. As part of his bond agreement, Brown will also be required to undergo drug and alcohol testing as well as a mental health evaluation. A league spokesperson told Yahoo Sports the NFL was continuing to monitor Brown as part of its ongoing personal conduct investigation, but Goodell’s comments on Wednesday stood as the most expansive look at how the league could handle Brown.

New England Patriots wide receiver Antonio Brown warms up before an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
New England Patriots wide receiver Antonio Brown warms up before an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

“Antonio’s situation, I think the first thing for all of us is to think about the well-being of Antonio,” Goodell said. “To understand what Antonio is going through. We don’t talk about the wellness of our players publicly, but I would tell you that you can be assured that the NFL and the NFLPA have a tremendous amount of resources that are available to all players that are going to be made available to Antonio.

“We want to help get him on the right track and get him in a position where he is in a zone where he thinks he can be successful in life. We are confident that can happen. We want to work to do that. From our standpoint, that’s the first step. The first step is making sure that we’re doing everything to help Antonio.”

That’s a significant change in tenor in how the league appears to be approaching Brown, but it also dovetails with some of the NFL’s efforts in recent years to consider mental health a part of its personal conduct evaluations. In cases of multiple players who have served suspensions in recent years, the NFL has met with doctors and weighed mental health and counseling evaluations, even going so far as building “programs” to help players regain their eligibility. That may be precisely what Goodell is referencing when he speaks about getting Brown “on the right track”.

Whatever the case, it appears the league’s investigation is growing less cut-and-dried by the month where it concerns Brown’s pending personal conduct issues. The NFL initially launched its investigation into Brown following a sexual assault lawsuit filed in civil court by one of Brown’s former personal trainers. Brown would file a countersuit against the trainer, but the league’s investigation would expand to include a second woman who was identified in a Sports Illustrated report accusing Brown of incidents of sexual misconduct in her presence.

Following the allegations from each of the women, the league moved to have NFL investigators meet with both accusers, as Brown was ultimately released by the New England Patriots in September. Brown has remained a free agent ever since, with the NFL having issued a memo to all teams warning that he could be subject to being placed on the commissioner’s exempt list if he were signed. That memo, along with Brown’s behavior on social media and interactions with police, have had a chilling effect on Brown’s free agency over the past several months. The New Orleans Saints had him in for a somewhat drama-filled workout in late December, but a team source told Yahoo Sports that he ultimately wasn’t signed after the NFL refused to provide clarity on Brown’s investigation.

His latest arrest for the alleged assault of the driver — which Brown’s attorney has denied happened — stood as a capper to a year filled with significant drama surrounding Brown. He had a massive fallout with the Pittsburgh Steelers at the end of the 2018 season, with head coach Mike Tomlin benching Brown for the team’s season finale for conduct he deemed detrimental to the team. Brown was then traded to the Oakland Raiders in March of 2019, but had multiple issues with that franchise, including missing time with tissue damage to the bottom of his feet, spats with the front office over missed practices and issues with his helmet not conforming to league standards. The Raiders eventually released Brown after he had an argument with general manager Mike Mayock, leading Brown to hit free agency and ultimately sign with the Patriots.

The stay with New England was short-lived, with the franchise sticking with him after the filing of the sexual assault civil suit, but then cutting him following the Sports Illustrated report detailing his alleged sexual misconduct with a second woman. Brown eventually filed a series of grievances through the NFL Players Association against the Raiders and Patriots for nearly $40 million in unpaid salary.

His life appeared to take another concerning turn when, following months of erratic social media posts, Brown live-streamed a profanity-laced and racist denunciation of an ex-girlfriend and Hollywood police officers as Brown’s ex picked up their children on Jan. 13. Shortly after that incident, his agent Drew Rosenhaus severed ties with Brown that was initially left open for a reversal if he sought counseling.

USA Today caught up with Brown near his home this week, leading him to express some contrition in the days before Goodell’s Wednesday address.

“I put myself in a bad predicament,’’ Brown told USA Today. “I’m out of it now, man. Unfortunate situation, but we don’t make excuses and we’re going to make the best of it.’’

Brown added that he’s planning to continue his pursuit back to the NFL this offseason.

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