This is a guest post by Matt Schenfeld. You can follow him on Twitter @SavageSchen
Antonio Brown is truly one-of-a-kind. Not just because he is the only wideout in NFL history with 100+ catches and 1,200+ yards receiving in six straight seasons, but because he has driven his career into the turf. Outrageous commentary on social media, childish behavior, petty grievances against the NFL, racist comments towards an NFL general manager and criminal allegations have contributed to the ultimate example of the diva wide receiver. He was released from three of the NFL’s most storied franchises in less than 12 months. One of those rosters happened to be one of the greatest franchises in pro football history and the organization that is often seen as the boot camp of the NFL. The club that (for now) has turned around the career of Josh Gordon. Your favorite team, the New England Patriots.
The downward spiral of AB’s career began on January 15th, 2017 after an 18-16 Divisional Round victory over the Chiefs. In the locker room post-game, he posted the infamous Facebook live video. Mike Tomlin’s comments on the upcoming AFC Championship Game opponent, the Patriots, was surely not intended for public consumption: “When you get to this point in the journey, not a lot needs to be said. Let’s say very little moving forward. Let’s start our preparations. We spotted those assholes a day and a half. They played yesterday, our game got moved to tonight. We gonna touch down at 4 o’clock in the fucking morning. So be it — we’ll be ready for their ass.”
On October 1, 2018, it was a third-down early in the second quarter of a game in Baltimore that set the tone for Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s relationship moving forward. Roethlisberger missed AB on a wide-open crossing route in the middle of the field. Antonio followed by taking his frustrations out on the cooler, tossing it towards the field before screaming and stomping around the sideline. Following another argument with his QB during the final week of the 2018 season, Brown skipped practice, was benched for his final game in black and yellow and was ultimately traded to the Oakland Raiders for third and fifth-round selections in the 2019 NFL Draft. And so began an extremely bizarre series of off-field events.
On August 3, 2019, he posted a picture of his blistered feet that prevented him from practicing during training camp. News later surfaced that he had entered a cryogenic therapy chamber with temperatures below 200 Fahrenheit – without proper footwear.
On August 12, Brown lost a grievance with the NFL over his decade-old helmet which is no longer approved under the league’s new safety standards. At this time Brown still wasn’t practicing, but did eventually find a helmet.
On September 4, the Raiders fined him $54,000 for missing practices. Brown posted the disciplinary missive on social media, which led to an altercation with the Raiders’ General Manager Mike Mayock. According to reports, Antonio threatened to punch Mayock and called him a “cracker.”
On September 6, Brown posted a video on YouTube that included a phone conversation with Coach Jon Gruden. In the clip, Gruden pleads to AB, “please stop this shit and just play football. How hard is that? You’re a great football player just play football.”
Initially, it appeared as though Gruden was trying to be an empathic paternal figure. Later we learned that Gruden approved the recording and the release of the audio.
Brown’s response: “I don’t know why it’s a question of me being a Raider. It’s like – do you guys want me to be a Raider?”
On September 7, the Raiders used the language of the contract to void the guaranteed money owed to Brown. Within hours AB signed a one-year $15 million deal with the last team anyone expected – The New England Patriots. Could Belichick pull more wizardry and fix Antonio the way he did Moss and Gordon?
With domestic violence allegations and disturbing emails surfacing within 24 hours of the deal, Brown would play what appears to be his final NFL game on Sunday, September 15 before his release five days later.
Instead of a fresh start and potentially a ring for the Canton-bound pass catcher, it was a bullet to the foot.
“Will not be playing in the NFL anymore these owners can cancel deals do whatever they want at any time we will see if the NFLPA hold them accountable sad they can just void guarantees anytime going on 40m 2 months will see if they pay up!” he announced on Twitter days following his release.
Dating back to his childhood, Brown had issues with father figures. At the age of 16, he was kicked out of the house for not getting along with his stepfather. This pattern of aggrieved outsider continued into his NFL career.
At the end of the phone call with Gruden, Antonio said, “I’m more than just a football player, man. I’m a real person. It ain’t about the football, I know I can do that. This is my life, ain’t no more games.”
Does this reveal the true motivation behind Brown’s behavior? From questioning the Raiders’ desire for his services (after they made him the highest-paid receiver in the league) to his comments about this being more than just football, it seems as if Brown is lacking in the self-esteem department. He is searching for more than just recognition of his on-field abilities. But what is he searching for? Apparently, for respect, something he would have ironically earned by simply “stop[ping] this shit and play[ing] football.”
After being released by New England, AB decided to enroll in online classes and finish his degree at Central Michigan University. According to his photo on social media, Brown will be taking four classes including two on “racism and inequality” and another on “death and dying.”
If this truly is the end of Antonio Brown the football player, it’s one of the biggest falls from grace in sports history. The man who was always smiling ear to ear and catching 100+ passes a season in Pittsburgh has virtually sabotaged his career and made himself an impossible gamble for any team. What Antonio needs to learn is that although he may be the best, football, and sports, in general, involves so much more than one supremely talented individual. Just take a look at Le’Veon Bell, the former teammate of Brown who sat out the entire 2018 season due to contract issues. He may have wanted to get paid, but also understands the reality of the sport. He has now taken a leadership role with one of the worst franchises in football history, the New York Jets.
For the sake of the game, I hope this isn’t the end for No. 84. But if it is, one thing’s for certain, we were able to witness one of the most dominant and dynamic receivers of all-time. There will certainly never be another player (or personality) like Antonio Brown.