The New England Patriots weren't aware of the Antonio Brown rape and sexual assault allegations.
They didn't know a civil lawsuit was on the horizon for Brown and reportedly wouldn't have signed him if they had.
But they take this situation very seriously.
As the world has turned with Antonio Brown, these have been the proclamations about where the Patriots stand with him. Or previously stood. Or are planning to stand in the future. But there's only one declaration that matters. And New England made it on Sunday.
They're standing with Brown. For better or worse, he's their guy and they're his team.
There's no getting away from that reality now. No matter what happens from this point on, the fact is New England was granted a choice by the NFL's league office this weekend, and this was the choice it made: rolling the dice on Brown without knowing the outcome of a league investigation, and embracing whatever that might look like in the coming weeks and months. From team owner Robert Kraft to head coach Bill Belichick — Sunday was the action that meant more than words.
The talent outweighs the risk. And the results outweigh the optics.
That's the statement you make when you not only activate Brown under the cloud of his civil suit, but you flourish with him in a win over the Miami Dolphins. A game where Tom Brady's first three completions went to Brown, who is now the most prized commodity in the offense not playing quarterback. The type of talent that makes reigning Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman the league's best No. 2 wideout and relegates Josh Gordon to being third-option frosting that is great when he shows up.
This is what Brown represents after only one game in a Patriots uniform — a player whose football contributions are undeniable, but whose off-field problems are both troubling and completely up in the air. He's the quintessential example of an NFL business decision. The one-man representation of: "We're here to win games. Not to make friends, worry about public relations or wait around for the NFL to tell us what we should be doing."
None of this is to make a declaration on Brown's guilt or innocence, mind you. It can't be ignored that he's facing a civil suit with no criminal charges — nor even facing a police investigation for that matter. It also can't be ignored the NFL didn't step in and put him on the commissioner's exempt list when it had the option to do that. Skewering Brown based on an allegation that has yet to provide significant proven evidence isn't a fair or palatable route, either.
But here's the thing: The Patriots could have hedged their bets. They could have deactivated Brown on Sunday and waited for the NFL to conduct interviews with his accuser Britney Taylor and also with Brown — two sit-downs that are expected to take place this week. New England absolutely could have waited. Not just because this was a game against the Dolphins and New England should have been able to win without him, but also because it shows that the words "we take this seriously" actually meant something.
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If New England was taking this seriously, it would have waited a week. If it cared about showing the allegations mattered, it would have let the NFL conduct interviews and asked league security for an advisory opinion. And then it would have been able to move forward with some actual information, rather than a guess that Brown's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, is correct about all of this being a "money grab."
But the Patriots didn't do that. They put Brown on the field despite not being alerted to all of these issues when they signed him, which is another alarming problem. At best, Rosenhaus and Brown were deceptive with information. At worst, they lied to New England by a significant amount of omission. Neither of those is a positive way to start a one-year, $15 million relationship.
(Brown didn’t stick around postgame to answer questions from reporters on Sunday.)
That New England didn't cut Brown after that kind of shady dealing certainly says something about its stance. Either the Patriots are absolutely certain Brown is telling the truth about his actions in this whole civil allegation, or they don't care enough to sacrifice his signing in the face of it. Considering the NFL can't be sure about Brown's guilt or innocence at this stage, the latter seems more likely.
And Sunday showed why because when Brown steps onto a football field, his talent is undeniable. His teams win because of him, not in spite of him. A football equation that creates opportunities in spite of risks. That's what the Patriots are embracing now. Regardless of the reports trying to pin down what the Patriots knew or whether they'd do this all over again given full awareness, we already have the answer.
He arrived on the field Sunday wearing No. 17. He provided 61 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in a blowout that was over by halftime. And he'll likely do it all over again next week — either because he's innocent of the civil suit allegations … or because the NFL is allowing him to stay on the field.
Whatever the reason, the Patriots have shown their stance. They have settled in right next to Antonio Brown. For better or worse.
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