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NFL

Here’s Antonio Brown’s Side Of This Mess

Antonio Brown #81 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on against the New York Jets during the game at MetLife Stadium on January 02, 2022 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

In the NFL, such as it is, there are generally very few good actors or reliable sources. The sport attracts and creates and rewards selfishness and subterfuge and cynicism in its participants, leaving fans with nothing to trust but our own eyes, and even that gets filtered through our own biases. It’s not a great state of affairs! But it’s all we have. So when something happens like what happened Sunday, when Antonio Brown stripped off his uniform and left the Buccaneers sideline in the middle of a game, we’ve got to go—for the time being, anyway—by what we saw. And what we saw did not look good for Brown.

Brown’s radio silence for a few days, and no comments from the team beyond Bruce Arians’s statement that Brown is “no longer a Buc” (despite, curiously, the team having yet to waive or cut him), provided the space for armchair explanations to rush in, all of them fairly believable given Brown’s history of, well—of Brown’s history. But mental health speculation/pre-mortem CTE diagnosis/shouting about old-fashioned bad teammatery sort of flail around in a vacuum, unless you’re just looking to confirm your priors. What was Brown’s side of the story? Could there be a side of the story, on that particular side, that made any sense?

It is worth reading the statement, which is longer and more thoughtful than we’ve gotten from Brown for any of his many past transgressions. But the Cliffs Notes version is that Brown says his ankle was injured, that the team knew this and shot it up (presumably with Toradol), and that he tried but couldn’t play on it. And when he told Arians he couldn’t play, Brown says,

“He then ordered me to get on the field. I said, ‘Coach, I can’t.’ He didn’t call for medical attention. Instead, he shouted at me, ‘YOU’RE DONE!’ while he ran his finger across his throat. Coach was telling me that if I didn’t play hurt, then I was done with the Bucs.”

Brown goes on to say that he went for an MRI that revealed a need for surgery, which he scheduled on his own, but the Bucs have demanded that he see their preferred doctors for another opinion—which they can do because he’s still under contract, and which, in turn, is perhaps why they haven’t cut him.

It must be stated (and no doubt will be, often) that Antonio Brown is perhaps the least reputable source for something like this, or really for anything. He has a long history of blaming anybody but himself for his actions, and he’s been caught in lies: Not six months ago he straight-up said, Yes, this is my real vaccination card. So one might dismiss this explanation out of hand, and with reason.

But it sounds plausible, right? Given everything we know about how the NFL operates—ignoring and mistreating injuries, feeding its players into the woodchipper, demanding they commit their bodies to and beyond the breaking point—would it shock you if Brown’s version of events actually happened? It’s not as if Bruce Arians’s word is worth much, either. Nobody involved in this is the “good guy,” or trustworthy, because this is the NFL.

So here’s my one actionable piece of analysis of this whole shitshow: You don’t have to believe anything, not yet. Barring future revelations and reporting, you don’t have to pretend you know who’s telling the truth here.

You can read Brown’s statement, and think, Hmm, this rings true, and choose to believe him, because the entire history of the league shows that this is a thing that happens. But you can also not believe him, and you’d have a plethora of evidence for that. And you can change your mind with new evidence! There are some objective claims made in Brown’s statement. Perhaps video will emerge of Arians giving the throat-cutting gesture. Brown has already released what he claims are text messages with Arians that would put the lie to Arians’s claim that he didn’t know Brown was injured (but a set of screenshots of course requires you to believe or disbelieve a whole new thing). This is a huge fucking mess, and sometimes it’s all right to look at a mess and say, “That’s a huge fucking mess. I don’t know what caused this mess but it wasn’t me and it’s not my job to clean it up.”

Both Antonio Brown and the NFL as an entity are very, very good at making messes.