Antonio Brown is on the verge of making his return to the NFL as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he will do what he can to help 43-year-old quarterback Tom Brady fulfill his quest for another Super Bowl title. Because Brady was, for the second time, personally involved in convincing his team to sign Brown, football fans are once again being exposed to an insultingly cynical PR campaign.
The actions and accusations that have kept Brown out of the NFL since September of last year are indisputably disturbing, which puts any team or player willing to professionally associate with him in the tough position of needing to explain exactly why they have chosen to do so. The truest and simplest answer—that Brown can still produce on the field and is therefore valuable to a football team—is one that nobody in the NFL can utter without undermining the sport’s mythology as an indisputable force for good. This leaves someone like Brady, who must maintain his squeaky-clean public image while also personally advocating for Brown’s return, in a position from which all he can do to explain himself is burrow further into that mythology. That’s how you end up with reports like this:
Brady is the primary reason Brown is in Tampa, league sources said, and he personally vouched for the troubled receiver in conversations with the coaching staff and management. Brady assured the team’s brass that he would work daily with Brown at the facility and away from it to make sure he was a solid teammate and complied with all team rules and Covid protocol. Brown will be residing with Brady for at least a portion of the season, sources said, and Brady vowed that he would make sure Brown attends all meetings and testing and abides by all Covid regulations at work and away from the team.CBS Sports
“Brady told them he is going to make sure this is not a problem,” said one source who had talked to numerous members of the Bucs organization. “He guaranteed BA (coach Bruce Arians) that he would make sure this guy did everything he has to do, even if Brady has to drive him there himself. These two are going to be joined at the hip. And they made it clear to Brady that Brown is on a very short leash. If he (slips up), he’s gone.”
And this, in which Fox Sports insider Jay Glazer gushes at how Brady has been helping Brown “off the field” by putting him into contact with Tony Robbins:
“I need friends like Tom Brady!” shouts Glazer at the end of his report.
Taken at face value, this all helps to excuse Brown’s presence in Tampa while simultaneously burnishing Brady’s reputation. Who could possibly criticize someone for taking a personal interest in the rehabilitation of someone as troubled as Antonio Brown? If Brown can get back into football and become a better person thanks to some life-coaching from Brady and Robbins, isn’t that a positive outcome?
That sort of affirming view of the situation only persists if you refuse to question the NFL’s own ideas about itself. Those ideas require you to believe that showing up on time to meetings and practices, following team rules, and performing well on the field are actions that can be equated with becoming a better person. They require you to believe that Tom Brady (an actual moron whose beliefs in junk science rival those of an anti-vaxxer) and Tony Robbins (a fraud and accused sexual harasser) know the first thing about improving a human being.
If there are methods for Brown to improve himself and attempt to heal people he’s harmed, they won’t be found on a football field or in Brady’s guest room. Brady and the Buccaneers know that, of course. That won’t stop them from trying to put images of Brady and Brown living together, driving to practice together, and Growing As Men together, as if they are characters in a redemptive sports movie, into the heads of football fans. It’s a clumsy and shameless attempt, but it only has to work for a few months, until they’ve gotten everything they need out of their talented new receiver.