In the first significant stride in what could be the most challenging personal conduct investigation in league history, the NFL spent Monday interviewing the woman who has accused New England Patriots wideout Antonio Brown of rape and sexual assault in a recent civil lawsuit.
A league source told Yahoo Sports that an NFL investigator traveled to interview Britney Taylor, who filed the suit against Brown last week in a Florida federal court. The source declined to elaborate on where the league’s interview with Taylor took place, or whether it would be limited to Monday. However, the source said the NFL is expected to keep the lines of communication open with Taylor, with the possibility of future interviews if the league’s investigation warrants them. The NFL is also expected to seek an interview with Brown in the coming days, although it’s unclear if that date has been set.
Monday’s meeting with Taylor is a significant step for the NFL because it moves the league’s investigation into a phase where commissioner Roger Goodell can begin weighing firsthand allegations and evidence collected during the process. While details on Taylor’s meeting are unknown, past investigations involving domestic violence or allegations of sexual misconduct have entailed the NFL seeking evidence that could help Goodell and his advisers arrive at a consensus on discipline.
Roger Goodell’s powers in Antonio Brown probe
Goodell has wide latitude to place Brown on the commissioner’s exempt list. Because it’s a weighing of potential discipline under powers granted by the collective-bargaining agreement, Goodell can set his own bar for the decision. He doesn’t need ironclad proof. That’s what makes Taylor’s interview with investigators so pivotal for the decision that comes next. With her meeting on record with the league, Goodell could choose to move Brown onto the exempt list merely by assessing that Taylor is credible and that her account of the alleged events is convincing.
Should Goodell move Brown onto the exempt list after the Taylor interview, he could also do so with the stated intention that the league hasn’t determined any guilt — but finds enough merit in the allegations to set Brown aside from the playing field while the investigation is completed. In essence, this is the bar that the NFL may have cleared on Monday: having attained enough firsthand information to determine the merit of continuing the investigation. The league could then cite that merit judgment for the justification of sitting Brown down for as many days or weeks as it takes for the NFL to complete a probe.
Difficulties of NFL’s current investigation
The continued investigation is where this will get more complicated for the league. The primary difficulty for the NFL is there are no other “guardrail” investigations that have already taken place. To date, police have not investigated Brown for the rape and sexual assault allegations that are contained in the civil suit. Taylor’s attorneys also haven’t indicated what physical evidence (if any) exists to prove her claims. That will likely put a premium on other forms of evidence, such as digital communications or any recordings that may exist, as well as the potential existence of other witnesses.
This underscores the lack of the “guardrail” the league typically works with in these cases. Rather than lean on police reports or the efforts of other investigative bodies, the league will have to produce evidence to make a decision from the ground up, and then eventually defend that evidence if and when a decision is rendered. Should Brown be suspended under the personal conduct policy, it’s almost certain the NFL Players Association will appeal the ruling, as it has done in many other past high-profile cases. And because it is the league’s investigators who will be producing any evidence or interviews, it will put the crosshairs on the competency and diligence of those who are gathering the facts for the NFL.
At least part of the investigation will also encompass other individuals who may come forward to either clear Brown or add to Taylor’s allegations. As it stands, one of those individuals might be Baltimore Ravens rookie wideout Marquise Brown who according to ProFootballTalk is the unnamed player cited in the lawsuit as having been at Brown’s residence at the time of the alleged rape in 2018.
Will recent allegation from artist be a factor?
There is also the matter of a recent Sports Illustrated report, which contains the account of an unnamed woman who accuses Brown of an incident where he stood behind her almost completely naked — covering only his genitals — as she attempted to paint a mural in his home. That allegation is another the NFL could seek to validate during the course of the Taylor investigation.
What’s clear is the NFL’s job investigating the claims against Brown are not only just getting started, but also getting more complicated as time passes. How that impacts his status with the Patriots remains to be seen. But a pivotal first step has been completed, giving Goodell the latitude he didn’t have last week. Specifically, making a judgment about whether there is enough information to continue the league’s investigation and keep Brown off the field in the coming days.
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