Antonio Brown is committing another NFL sin. It is more subtle than ripping off his jersey and walking off the field mid-game. It’s not as dangerous as the worst allegations against him, like sexual assault, throwing furniture off a 14th-floor balcony or obtaining a fake COVID-19 vaccination card. But this could finally end his career, because Brown is doing what NFL players do at their own risk: He is telling his side of the story.
Via social media, he says he told the Bucs he couldn’t play on his injured ankle and they ordered him to play anyway. He says coach Bruce Arians told him on the sideline Sunday that if he didn’t enter the game, he would be cut, and that Arians lied about it later. He says he has texts from Bucs management confirming his version of events. He even took shots at Tom Brady, his chief supporter.
Brown is about as trustworthy as an automated message trying to give you a special deal on car insurance, but that isn’t even the point. NFL owners and coaches cannot stand when somebody tells the world that life in the league can be cutthroat, miserable and ethically dubious.
If Brown is lying about everything, why would teams sign him? If Brown is telling the truth about everything, why would teams sign him?
You can do a lot of terrible stuff and still play in the NFL, as Brown has proven repeatedly. But you cannot stand between the consumer and the product. The league sells its audience a very specific, sanitized version of pro football. It tries to control everything from players’ socks to complaints about the referees to the perception of safety. Brown is telling a story of a team squeezing production out of a player, shooting him up with painkillers and dumping him as soon as he becomes inconvenient. That tune will sound familiar to a lot of players, whether it’s true in his case or not. But owners don’t want anyone to hear it.
Brown always brings receipts, though they usually don’t say what he thinks they say. He demanded a trade from the Steelers, got it, and then complained they traded him to the Raiders while he was sleeping. He nuked his Raiders career almost immediately, but on the way out he recorded a call with Raiders coach Jon Gruden and released it. Then he went to New England, and when the Patriots cut him in part because of a civil suit alleging sexual assault and his sending threatening text messages to a woman who had alleged sexual misconduct, he tweeted (then soon deleted) about Pats owner Robert Kraft’s arrest for solicitation (charges against Kraft have since been dropped). Now he is taking aim at the one organization and one player who have supported him the most.
This is what you get when you sign Antonio Brown. His tenure will end poorly, of course, but it will also end explosively. Brown caught 87 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns in 15 games with the Bucs on a relatively low salary, and in the cold calculus of the NFL, the Bucs could argue that was a good investment. But Brown won’t let the story end there. He never does.
His shot at Brady veered into the nonsensical. Brady, remember, supported Brown’s signing with his last two organizations, risked his own reputation by being publicly close to him, and even offered to let Brown stay at his house.
Now Brown says Brady’s personal trainer, Alex Guerrero, charged him $100,000 for work he never did. Brown’s evidence: a text exchange in which he told Guerrero he didn’t want to work together and wanted half his $100,000 back. Guerrero responded with—this is an exact quote: “Let me know where you want me to send the balance. Big hugs my friend.” Brown then sent his bank routing information (which he shared publicly in his Instagram story before deleting it). Brown somehow accused Guerrero of fraud and then presented exculpatory evidence as proof of Guerrero’s guilt. To the list of jobs Brown should never hold, we can safely add “prosecutor.”
First Brown took off his jersey, then he aired dirty laundry. Look through recent NFL history, and you’ll see the price this brings. Colin Kaepernick can’t get a job because owners are scared he might upset some customers. Eric Reid supported Kaepernick and said he was blackballed. (Reid and Kaepernick both filed collusion suits and settled.) Jonathan Martin said he was bullied and his team initially defended the bully. Ray Rice was suspended just two games for punching his then fiancé, but once the video came out it presented an image problem for the NFL, so nobody signed him. Those cases are all very different, but the common thread is that the NFL does not like anybody else packaging its product.
There are holes in Brown’s latest rant. Even if Arians did order Brown to play and Brown couldn’t, walking off the field mid-game was still unprofessional. There is a reason you have never seen that before.
But even if you believe every word Brown has said, even if you feel bad for him, I don’t think many NFL owners and coaches do. Stars should be reluctant to advocate for Brown after seeing him turn on Brady. Coaches should know he will turn on them the way he turned on Arians, Gruden and Mike Tomlin. Owners should see what became even more obvious this week than it was Sunday: Antonio Brown is no longer good for business. That might be all that matters.