The sight of the playoff-bound Tampa Bay Buccaneers trailing the moribund New York Jets deep into the third quarter of their week 17 match-up was strange enough, but something altogether weirder was about to unfold.
No stranger to controversy over the course of an often-glittering career, wide receiver Antonio Brown was about to go out in the way that only he could. Most people have seen the memes and clips now, but if you haven’t then here goes:
With about three minutes to go in the quarter, Brown hauled off his pads and jersey, and then jogged across the end-zone, waving to fans, before disappearing down the tunnel. Putting the pieces together after the game it transpired that Bucs coach Bruce Arians had been asking Brown to re-enter the game, which the WR refused to do. Eventually Arians told his player that if he didn’t want to play then he should get out, which AB seemed to take very literally.
This latest outburst may put a full-stop on the career of a wide receiver who could have been one of the all-time greats, had he not been dogged by issues and controversy throughout his time in the league.
A Rollercoaster Ride
It’s easy to forget now, but when he was drafted into the NFL in 2010 Antonio Brown was not rated particularly highly. The Pittsburgh Steelers took him in the sixth round of the draft, just the 22nd out of 27 wide receivers who were picked that year. Brown began his rookie season as the fifth-choice WR for the Steelers, and was also involved in special teams play as a punt returner, but nothing suggested that he would go on to become one of the star wide receivers in the league.
However, the following year showed improvement as Antonio locked down the third WR berth and made the Pro Bowl as a punt returner. In 2012 he locked down a position as a starter and scored a hefty contract extension from an organisation which was clearly starting to see a bright future for him. Brown was putting up eye-catching numbers, but there was a hint of things to come in the unsportsmanlike conduct fine of $10,000 for running 20 yards backwards to score a punt return TD against Washington.
As his career with the Steelers progressed, the numbers on the field would lead to him being named as the NFL’s 8th best player in the player-nominated poll in 2015. To accompany headline grabbing stats like the 1,834 receiving yards he made in the 2015 season – Brown holds the top 4 spots in that category in Steelers’ history – there were continual issues such as (accidentally) kicking a punter in the face-mask, (not accidentally) broadcasting scenes of Steeler locker-room celebrations on social media, and various arguments with coaches and QB Roethlisberger.
Where AB Goes, Trouble Follows
The Steelers eventually cut ties with Brown, and he moved to the Las Vegas Raiders in 2019. The pre-season was covered by the Hard Knocks TV show, which provided such behind-the-scenes insights as how Brown managed to get severe frostbite from staying too long in a cryotherapy machine without the ‘correct footwear’. Also there was his ongoing battle with the league about being allowed to wear his old helmet, despite the fact that it no longer met league specifications.
An altercation with General Manager Mike Mayock signalled the beginning of the end for Brown with the Raiders, and he left before the season began. The New England Patriots swiftly picked him up on the same day the Raiders released him, but Brown was cut due to off-field sexual misconduct allegations after just a couple of games. An announcement that he was retiring from the league proved short lived, and Antonio was suiting up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. He enjoyed mixed success in Tampa, but this latest escapade looks like being a bridge too far.
By far the most serious allegations against Antonio Brown are those of sexual assault levied at him by a former trainer and a second (unnamed) woman. (A settlement was agreed between Brown’s legal team and his former trainer in 2021). A number of domestic abuse allegations have also been documented, not to mention speeding offences and incidences related to violence. And more recently there has been another weird episode featuring Brown, this time relating to faked Covid vaccine cards, which led to a three-game suspension from the NFL.
End of the Road
This latest – and suitably bizarre – incident has surely put an end to Antonio Brown’s NFL career. It was the most public display of brazen disrespect to his team and coach, and there will be no way back from this one, even for such an outrageously gifted player. Those incredible talents have brought AB back from the abyss in the past, with coaches and teams taking a chance on his ability and willing to overlook some of the baggage that comes with that.
Perhaps that kind of attitude has added to Browns’ problems, rather than alleviating them. In a post-match interview on Fox, the legendary defensive end Michael Strahan urged that sympathy be shown to the troubled wide receiver, expressing the hope that ‘if he does need help, I hope he’s able to get it’. Amidst the barrage of mocking memes and Twitter trolling, it was good to see someone like Tom Brady taking the high-ground when discussing the issue post-game, saying that ‘everybody should hopefully do what they can to help him in ways that he really needs it.’
Brady once again showed that he is a class act, and his calls for empathy are ones that should be echoed when it comes to Antonio Brown. Brown has spent more than a decade playing a game of concussive collisions and now seems to be – from the outside at least – a man in need of help and assistance. We can only hope that he receives whatever attention is required, whether in or out of the public eye, and wish him the best for his future.