An analysis of whether this week’s text messaging incident could land Antonio Brown in further legal and NFL disciplinary trouble.
As Britney Taylor met with NFL investigators on Monday about her accusation that New England Patriots wide receiver Antonio Brown sexually assaulted her in 2017 and ’18, Sports Illustrated reported on police reports, court filings and other records that reveal Brown has been accused of wrongdoing on multiple occasions during his 10 seasons in the NFL.
Robert Klemko details those findings in his exclusive story for The MMQB.
The range of alleged misconduct linked to Brown is wide though, in Brown’s defense, unproven in a court of law.
For instance, Brown’s ex-girlfriend, Chelsie Kyriss, told police in 2017 that Brown had thrown a bottle of cologne at her during an argument. It did not cause injury and Kyriss declined to pursue charges. Last April, police in Sunny Isles (Fla.) visited Brown’s apartment on three consecutive days to investigate, among other things, a claim that an enraged Brown was throwing furniture from the 14th-floor apartment balcony onto the street. Brown was not charged for the alleged furniture tossing though settled a potential claim from a young child who was nearly hit by a piece of furniture. Police also responded to Brown’s claims that his handgun, a bag $80,000 in cash and his Rolls-Royce had been stolen from the property.
In 2017, Brown allegedly invited an artist to his Pittsburgh home to paint a mural on a wall in his house. The artist, a woman, told Klemko that Brown had aggressively flirted with her while she was painting. She claimed that at one point, while she was kneeling, Brown lurked behind her while completely naked, save for holding a small towel over his genitals. The artist, whose name is not being reported, declined to pursue charges or file a lawsuit. Given the absence of a charge or lawsuit and given that the artist has declined to make her identity known, it is unlikely that the NFL will investigate. However, she insists that Brown committed an unwanted sexual overture.
Brown is also accused of pushing Wiltrice Jackson, the mother of one of Brown’s five children, away from his front door at his Hollywood (Fla.) residence. Jackson, who suffered a cut on her left forearm from the fall, had sought reimbursement for their daughter’s hair appointment. She declined to pursue charges.
Another line of controversy stems from a series of allegations that Brown doesn’t pay those he hires to perform services—instead, he allegedly “ghosts” them when they demand payment. For example, Klemko interviewed attorney Michael Daniel Kolodzi, whose client, speed trainer Sean Pena, has sued Brown for alleged unpaid wages. Pena claims he helped to train Brown but, as portrayed by Kolodzi, Brown tells those who work for him should view the opportunity—and accompanying publicity—as the compensation.
There is much more in Klemko’s story.
Despite the long list of accusations against Brown, it does not appear that Brown has been arrested or charged with a crime. Likewise, Brown and his representatives appear to have a framework in place whereby they settle potential and actual civil lawsuits out of court, often before they lead to the creation of public records.
While Brown’s representatives appear mostly adept at extinguishing actual and potential legal claims before those claims generate controversy—and adverse ramifications for Brown’s NFL career—they were unable to do so with Taylor. Attorneys for Brown and Taylor had negotiated a potential out-of-court settlement in recent months, but Brown reportedly found the demand price to be excessive. ESPN’s Jeff Darlington learned that Taylor’s attorneys demanded at least $2 million in a settlement.
Brown refused to pay the amount, which led to Taylor’s attorneys to file a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The lawsuit seeks at least $75,000 in damages, but don’t be distracted by the figure. The stated amount in controversy merely satisfies a jurisdictional requirement for filing a lawsuit in federal court. If Taylor and Brown go to trial, she would demand far more than $75,000.
Brown’s apparent decision to decline a settlement offer could prove unwise, regardless of whether he or Taylor is telling the truth. Brown and Taylor were unable to reach a “last-minute” settlement before her meeting with the NFL occurred on Monday at an undisclosed location. As detailed in an MMQB legal story, if league investigators regard Taylor as credible, commissioner Roger Goodell would be inclined to place Brown on the commissioner’s exempt list.
Goodell only needs to find that Brown “may have” committed an act of violence against Taylor in order to exempt Brown from eligibility, which is a very low bar. Goodell doesn’t need to be certain that Brown battered Taylor or even inclined to believe it. He simply needs to find that Brown “may have” battered Taylor.
Although Brown would still be paid his base salary while on the exempt list, he would become less likely to earn lucrative bonuses. Brown would reportedly earn $1.5 million bonuses if he 105 catches, 1,298 yards or 16 touchdowns this season. Placement on the exempt list could also serve as a precursor to an unpaid suspension.
When Taylor met with the NFL, the league obtained a record, which likely contains a summary of the questions asked by league staff to Taylor and her responses; it might also contain a transcript if the meeting was recorded. Goodell can now rely on that record to punish Brown. This is true even if Taylor and Brown reach an out-of-court settlement next week or next month.
For that reason, Taylor’s bargaining leverage was perhaps at its apex right before she met with the NFL. If she and Brown had reached a settlement before her meeting, the settlement would have almost certainly contained an accompanying non-disclosure agreement that forbid either Taylor or Brown from discussing their relationship. Non-disclosure agreements have attracted controversy during the #MeToo era because victims of sexual assault (most notably victims of film producer Harvey Weinstein) contract away the right to reveal what had occurred. Several states, including California and New Jersey, have recently enacted limitations on the use of non-disclosure agreements. Such agreements, however, are generally lawful in Florida.
If Taylor had signed a non-disclosure agreement before her meeting, she would have then called off her meeting with the NFL. Although the NFL could have continued to investigate Brown, it might simply have dropped the investigation given the difficulty of probing a matter where there is no police report or sworn testimony. Along those lines, an out-of-court settlement between Brown and Taylor would not be tantamount to Brown admitting guilt. A settlement is a contract where typically no one admits fault. The NFL would thus not “think Brown did it” simply because he reached a private agreement with Taylor.
Aside from his NFL career, Brown must also be mindful of the impact of these controversies on his endorsement income. He recently lost an endorsement deal with Helmet manufacturer Xenith. Brown reportedly still has deals with Facebook, Nike and Pepsi, among other major brands. These companies will monitor the extent to which Brown’s alleged transgressions harm his image and, by extension, that of the company. Indeed, major companies almost always include “morals clauses” in endorsement contracts. These clauses enable a company to exit or suspend a contract when the athlete brings disrepute on either himself/herself or the company.
Companies that do business with Brown largely know what they are getting into. On the plus side, he is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, and he currently plays for a team that is currently favored to win Super Bowl LIV, which will be played in Brown’s hometown of Miami. On the downside, Brown is a magnet for off-field controversy and bizarre and unpredictable behavior. Brown’s prolific use of social media is both good and bad—he can easily market products to his 3.7 million followers on Instagram, but he can damage his reputation through strange postings, such as publishing a private phone call with his coach.
Yet if Brown’s oddities become associated with sexual assault and other unlawful acts, his reputation as an unusual person could take on a more sinister quality. This is likely why Brown’s representatives have tried to prevent damaging allegations from becoming public findings. It is also why Brown might regret not reaching a settlement with Taylor before she met with the league.
Michael McCann is SI’s Legal Analyst. He is also an attorney and Director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law.
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