One week into the National Football League’s 100th season, a single storyline is standing out, and not in the best way. The saga of wide receiver Antonio Brown has dominated the NFL and taken so many turns that it’s almost easy to forget what people thought of Brown as recently as last season, when he was considered an inspirational underdog, the sixth-round pick out of Central Michigan University who had worked to become arguably the best receiver in the league for about five years.
However, Brown seemed to start having issues with his original team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, eventually forcing a 2019 trade to the Oakland Raiders, with whom he signed a contract that included a substantial $30 million guarantee. From there, Brown’s story devolved into a series of extraordinary incidents, from getting frostbite after improperly entering a cryogenic chamber, to refusing to wear helmets that the league now mandates, to screaming and openly threatening General Manager Mike Mayock.
Shortly after all of this, Brown requested — and was granted — a release from the Oakland Raiders, who voided his guaranteed money on the basis of “conduct detrimental to the team.” This phrase may seem somewhat nebulous, but refusing to report to practice over a helmet and publicly fighting the GM would logically seem to qualify as such. Thus, Brown’s likely attempts to get that money back will undoubtedly be unsuccessful.
Brown’s lost guarantee now seems less relevant after his next move, however – heading to the New England Patriots on a $15 million per year deal, which includes a $9 million signing bonus that Brown will get immediately upon signing. This move appears to be an excellent one for the reigning Super Bowl champions, who have a history of giving embattled players another shot (see: Randy Moss setting the receiving touchdown record after the Patriots picked him up from the very same Raiders).
What remains to be seen, however, is whether Brown will actually suit up with the Patriots this season. While NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that he will not investigate how Brown paired with the Patriots — some have been suspicious, based on the short time-frame in which the contract was signed — the possibility of a suspension still exists. This could come from the player conduct policy, which states that “All persons associated with the NFL are required to avoid conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the National Football League.”
Given Brown’s behavior, it would be foolish for the league to not suspend Brown for some period of time. His actions and behavior – which should not be considered acceptable in the league – have essentially forced him off the Raiders. This, in addition to a pending rape case against him, are reason enough for suspension, or at the very least placement on the exempt list, meaning he would be barred from play indefinitely until he is explicitly reinstated.
Patriots fans may see this scenario as more unfair targeting of their players, especially after the infamous suspension of quarterback Tom Brady following his team’s pre-game tampering with game footballs. However, unlike “Deflategate,” in this case, the player genuinely deserves the punishment. Brown’s conduct over the past month or so is not something the league can simply overlook. Such inaction would set a dangerous precedent, implying that players can treat their teammates and teams however they desire and, if they are talented enough, simply get away with it. This hurts teams, fans of teams, and ultimately harms public confidence in the league if players are allowed to engage in blatantly disrespectful and harmful conduct without any repercussions.