Antonio Brown Saga Just Another Sign of the Patriot Way

In the days after the New England Patriots dumped him, receiver Antonio Brown has come out talking money and smack, threatening to take former teams to arbitration for having the audacity to tear up his contracts.

In tweets that have taken on a not so slightly unhinged quality, the 31-year-old receiver sounded purely pugnacious: “Will not be playing in the @NFL anymore these owners can cancel deals do whatever they want at anytime we will see if the @NFLPA hold them accountable sad they can just void guarantees anytime.”

Unfortunately for this former All-Pro, he is unemployed for straightforward reasons: He is on the receiving end of horrific accusations from two women. A trainer has accused him in a lawsuit of sexually assaulting her three times, and an artist said that he had exposed himself to her and that, after she spoke of this to Sports Illustrated, he had sent her threatening group text messages, replete with photographs of her children.

Brown is not what Mother Jones had in mind when she campaigned for worker’s rights. And as sports contracts have personal conduct clauses, he could wave goodbye to many millions of dollars.

Let’s put aside the question of this man’s salary beefs. Another question cuts closer to the heart of the heart of our culture and this most popular and brutal of American sports. Why did the Patriots sign Brown and why did they let him play a game after learning of the sexual assault allegations?

Michael LeRoy, a professor of labor relations at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign adds the are-you-kidding-me coda: “What does it say about the N.F.L. that they didn’t step in?”

Allow me to offer a cheat sheet: It says nothing good at all about the team or the league.

The New England Patriots are one of the most successful franchises in the history of the game, and their success has come with three men at the helm: Owner Robert K. Kraft, Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. With the smarmy sanctimony that is the particular preserve of this sport, the Patriots are wonderfully taken with their own mystique. They are not just successful, they are smarter, cleverer and — here you must stifle a laugh — more righteous.

Asked to explain the so-called Patriot Way, Kraft in 2013 told The NFL Network, “It’s about trying to collect a lot of good people.”

By sheerest dumb chance, the owner offered that explanation in the same year that Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots’ star tight end, was indicted on the first of multiple homicide counts.

Let’s put that unsightly business to the side, too. In its ordinariness, this chapter tells us more about the Patriots and the league.

A timeline of the wide receiver’s tumultuous career.

Brown arrived at the Patriots’ camp in September hauling a valise of unsightly laundry. He had spent nine years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the last season of which he worked diligently to alienate his coach, his quarterback and other teammates. Finally the Steelers traded him to the Oakland Raiders.

He passed his summer in strange fashion, reportedly burning his feet in a cryotherapy chamber and then filing and losing grievances against the N.F.L. in which he demanded to wear his favored model helmet. Then he missed practices; then he reportedly called the team’s general manager “a cracker” and threatened to hit him. In the manner of a thoroughly exhausted pre-K teacher, the Raiders finally voided the nearly $30 million guaranteed in his contract and released him.

That same September day Brown seemed to tumble forward into clover, agreeing to a contract worth as much as $15 million, including a $9 million signing bonus, with the Patriots.

As this was the Patriots’ way, the move played brilliantly with the press. They are, reporters proclaimed, a superteam.

A few days later, Kraft, who this year had his own legal trouble when he was charged with getting what was both more and less than a massage in a parlor in Jupiter, Fla., chatted with Al Michaels of NBC and near chortled at his team’s brilliance.

So Michaels reported: “Kraft told me that when he broke the news to Tom Brady, Brady initially said, ‘I’m a hundred percent in.’ Two minutes later, Tom came back and said to Kraft, ‘I’m a thousand percent in.’ Then he came back two minutes later and said, ‘I’m a million percent in.”

Brady even offered to let Brown stay in his mansion with him and his wife. Then he gave Brown a key to his personal gym. This was getting so cool, bro.

A few days later came word that Brown’s former trainer had filed a federal lawsuit in South Florida accusing him of sexually assaulting her. Belichick, who favors the look of a surly monk pulled blinking out of his cave, was characteristically unrevealing: “Antonio and his representatives have made statements. I’m not going to be expanding on any of those.”

He walked out of that conference, as he would several more this past week.

The Patriots churned out a release: “We take these allegations very seriously. Under no circumstance does this organization condone sexual violence or assault.”

The organization did, however, condone the idea of Brown playing that Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. And he did, catching a few passes in an easy win. Neither the Patriots or the N.F.L. apparently considered that a bad look.

The following Thursday, Sports Illustrated published threatening text messages Brown had sent the female artist who had accused him of exposing himself. The next day Belichick held another of his ebullient news conferences.

The team, the coach said, is “looking into some things” regarding Antonio Brown. Will you, a reporter pressed, talk a little about him?

Belichick shook his head.

“No,” he said.

Later that day a Patriots spokesman stepped forward.

“The New England Patriots are releasing Antonio Brown,” he said. “We feel that it is best to move forward in a different direction at this time.”

Kraft had nothing much to say. Nor did Brady, who went on radio and talked in dizzying circles about love of game and teammates and life and the universe.

As for Belichick, Dana Jacobson of CBS Sports, caught up with him on Sunday and asked about his ‘final straw’ with Brown.

“We’re focused on the Jets today,” Belichick replied. Then he offered the reporter his dead-squirrel stare.

A bad look for the N.F.L.? Nope, perfectly on brand.

More on Antonio Brown’s Patriots Tenure
Antonio Brown Says He Is Done With the N.F.L.

Antonio Brown Is Released by the New England Patriots

Antonio Brown’s Patriots Debut Is Business as Usual

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