Updated: Jul 28
By now you’ve all seen the clip that set the internet on fire. Tampa Bay Bucs Wide Receiver Antonio Brown performing his best drunken fan impression storming through the field shirtless as he exited MetLife Stadium. Parading through the endzone as he waved goodbye to fans was the latest in a long line of questionable decision-making by the former All-Pro.
Brown has had his fair share of missteps. Over the last several years Brown has faced allegations of sexual assault, pleaded no contest to felony burglary with battery, and was suspended by the NFL for faking a vaccination card, just to mention a few. During that stretch Brown also caught a touchdown in the Super Bowl alongside Tom Brady, the quarterback who repeatedly vouched for Brown. The Antonio Brown story is another reminder of the harsh reality that talent trumps all. Certain players who perform at a high level are given second, third, and fourth chances despite repeated behavior demonstrating they don’t deserve it.
The attention was focused on Brown’s temper tantrum, but initially there was a lot unknown surrounding the cause of the blowup. Many speculated it could have been as simple not receiving targets from Tom Brady during the game. Notably, even despite missing nine games due to injury and poor construction of a faux vaccine card, Brown was rapidly approaching contract incentives worth an amount of money so large it may cause someone to be unusually upset about not receiving the ball.
However, as we all know there’s two sides to every story. Story number two paints Brown in a more sympathetic light; one where he was taken advantage of by his employer. Earlier this week, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Brown and the Bucs coaching staff got in an argument on the sidelines over Brown’s availability. Brown felt as if he was suffering from an ankle injury that prevented him from entering the game. According to Rapoport, the coaching staff told Brown, “If you’re not going into the game when we tell you to go into the game, then you can’t be here”. This exchange then led to the outburst we all saw.
After the game Brown himself didn’t provide much clarity. He posted this cryptic message on Instagram:
After a quick google search, it’s unclear if “super gremlin” means he was upset because he wasn’t getting the ball enough, upset because he was being forced to play despite an ankle injury, or something in between.
But after several days of reflection, Brown’s attorney Sean Burstyn released a statement outlining a version of events which follows Rapoport’s reporting that Brown was injured and asked to return to the game by the coaching staff:
We can dive a little deeper into these conflicting stories. On one hand, Brown has shown a repeated pattern of erratic behavior that is consistent with his actions on Sunday. If Brown was unhappy with how the game was going, this wouldn’t cause most NFL players to combust. But Brown has shown he doesn’t act like most NFL players.
You could take a guess which storyline Bucs head coach Bruce Arians is feeding the media. Arians’ comments have been vague surrounding what transpired on the sideline and when asked in a press conference for details stated, “you all saw what happened”. Arians also told reporters, “I don’t know that he was [injured]”. That particular detail is difficult to believe because Brown had been dealing with an ankle injury for months.
Arians may not want to comment further on the matter for fear of letting this distraction continue to affect his football team. My cynical side believes that Arians has been coached by lawyers and his PR team to not provide any details that could show the Bucs organization was culpable. If Arians was coached, he’s a fast learner. When asked, “Can you share anything about the conversation you had with AB before he left” Arians responded, “No. You’ll have to ask him.”
For a moment let’s follow Arian’s side. Brown lost his mind due to selfish reasons such as not getting the ball enough and when the Bucs begged Brown to reenter the game he refused. If Brown was upset because he felt a million dollars of contract incentives slipping through his hands, wouldn’t he be on the field despite an ankle injury? If money was all he cared about, he would have been on the field attempting to obtain his payday even if his ankle injury forced him into a wheelchair. Instead, Brown was on the sidelines arguing with his coaching staff. Something doesn’t add up.
If the Bucs were forcing Brown to enter the game despite an ankle injury, he has the option of filing a grievance with the league. This is where lawyers get involved arguing about how much compensation Brown is owed upon his departure from the team. Brown’s attorneys will claim the Bucs were in violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement “CBA” by attempting to force an injured player onto the football field, and when he refused, they cut him. Coaches shouldn’t be involved in conversations with players diagnosing and evaluating the severity of an injury. That role is designated to the training staff and team doctor under the CBA. The training staff then notifies the coach of a player’s status for the remainder of a game. Brown will make an argument the proper injury protocol wasn’t followed.
On the flip side, the Bucs will likely keep their story consistent that Brown’s injury was not discussed. They will make a case that Brown’s outburst on the sideline was “conduct detrimental” to the team, so they have the right to cut bait and move on.
Brown is already starting to bolster his defense. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Brown received an MRI from a surgeon outside of the Bucs organization that revealed a “lingering ankle injury”. This is consistent with the statement released by Brown’s attorney. This ankle injury prevented Brown from practicing on Thursday and Friday and caused Brown to be listed as “questionable” for Sunday’s contest.
The mystery remains unsolved for now. The tapes of the Bucs sideline at MetLife may have to be analyzed like the Zapruder film by the NFL to get to the bottom of this. Antonio Brown’s time as a Tampa Bay Buc is officially over, but the drama between the two sides is set to continue.
Matt Netti is a 2021 graduate from Northeastern University School of Law. He currently works as an attorney fellow at the Office of the General Counsel for Northeastern University. You can follow him on twitter and instagram @MattNettiMN and find him on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthew-netti-ba5787a3/. You can find all his work at www.mattnetti.com
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