Back in the summer of 2019, I was the lead editor on the Sports Illustrated exposé on Antonio Brown, which was written by Robert Klemko with contributions from just about everyone in our shop. Brown has always been accountable for his own actions. But sources who spoke to SI for the story documented how he was also someone who has always needed a different level of management and care from those around him, going all the way back to a difficult upbringing in Florida.
“Tony is a person who needs that guidance. There are some kids that have been in Tony’s situation who are doing fine. You see them every once in a while and they go about their business,” Torriano Brooks, an assistant coach at Miami Norland High School when Brown was a quarterback there, told SI for that 2019 story. “But he needs that one person. He needs to have that individual in his life to say, ‘Tony you’re really hurting yourself right now.’”
Tom Brady has implied he is that person, during their brief time together in Foxborough and when they teamed up again in Tampa. After dismissing legitimate questions—in sophomoric terms—regarding his organization’s objective mishandling of Brown two weeks ago, Bucs coach Bruce Arians claimed Brown was “working hard on it.” But Brown’s actions suggest otherwise.
Since teaming up with Brady, originally in New England in the summer of 2019, Brown has sent threatening text messages to a woman who shared allegations of sexual misconduct to SI. He also said in an interview with ESPN that he “never got in a conflict” with any women and he was actually the victim, despite the evidence laid out in our independent reporting—for which vetting the allegations against Brown was a weeks-long process—police reports and sometimes his own social media accounts. The Bucs signed him last season anyway, and, after Brown was caught using a fake COVID-19 vaccine card, he recorded an interview on Richard Sherman’s podcast, on which he and Sherman agreed that he was the victim in the fake vaccine-card scandal.
Richard Sherman, from that podcast: “So, like, how frustrating is it for you, I mean like even, even talking about the stuff that you’ve been dealing with recently, like they talking about your card fake and all that. And you got the vaccine and then you get the booster shot and you still got to deal with scrutiny, like, it’s like no matter what the truth actually is, people can make their own narrative and you got to deal with it.”
Brown’s response: “Yeah, that’s the sad part. You know the country say you’re innocent until proven guilty, but you’re guilty until you show innocence, because anything someone says everyone’s already magnifying it and if I come out if you come out and say anything you just put yourself in deeper holes.”
That was 24 hours before Brown’s suspension for “misrepresenting his vaccine status” was announced. He returned to the Bucs’ lineup last week.
The NFL is served by a media apparatus that is reliant, for most outlets, on access, which is why few have sufficiently pressed Brady, Arians or others in the Bucs’ organization on the matter of Brown’s past. (When SI’s Jenny Vrentas asked GM Jason Licht about the decision to sign Brown during Super Bowl week, Licht said he and Arians had “a lot of conversations” about the signing of Brown and did “our due diligence,” though he did not specify what that entailed.)
And in turn, Brady, Arians and the entire Bucs organization took the tack of enabling Brown at every turn, creating an alternate reality in which he was accountable for nothing. Until Sunday, that is. Brown stripped down shirtless in the third quarter of the game against the Jets, left the stadium early and hitched a ride home himself. Leaving midgame is far from Brown’s most serious misconduct over the last few years; it was the last straw because it was the one act that directly affected the Bucs on the field.
Brown is no longer a member of the Buccaneers. But when you look back at the embarrassments of the past two seasons, the mistreatment of women, the suspension for a fake vaccine card, the self-destructive behavior and his deluded attitude toward it all, never forget the role Brady, Arians and the Bucs’ organization played in it.