OPINION: Bruce Arians and the Bucs knew the uber-talented wide receiver was mercurial at best and troubled at worst. They signed him anyway. What did they think would happen?
You can be a fan of NFL football and dislike the NFL.
You can relish the action and the competition while loathing the machinery behind it. You can be conflicted about the sport and make peace with enjoying it, but you can’t cheer for “The Shield” in good conscience unless you’re the heartless, soulless type that roots for Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, Big Oil, etc.
When uber-talented Antonio Brown released a statement Wednesday to explain his bizarre, mid-game exit from the New York Jets-Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, he poked at the discomfort of our relationship, our Faustian bargain between NFL football and the NFL itself. We know the league values profits more than its players, and here was Brown confirming that reality, saying he was punished for refusing to play through an ankle injury.
Coach Bruce Arians “ordered me to get on the field,” Brown said in the statement. “I said ‘Coach, I can’t.” He didn’t call for medical attention. Instead he shouted at me, ‘YOU’RE DONE!’ while he ran his finger across his throat. Coach was telling me if I didn’t play hurt, then I was done with the Bucs.”
Outrageous, right? That’s exactly why we can’t cape for the NFL, which blackballed Colin Kaepernick, nurtured Jon Gruden, and gaslights us with “End Racism” and “It Takes All of Us” stickers—as if team owners aren’t fervent supporters of social injustice. (No, it doesn’t help that other leagues’ owners are worse.)
Brown said he was prompted into undressing and jogging off the field. “The trigger was someone telling me that I’m not allowed to feel pain,” he said in the statement. “I acknowledge my past. But my past does not make me a second-class citizen. My past does not forfeit my right be heard when I am in pain.”
It sounded good to some of us whose default setting is “side with players,” even a player as immature and shady as Brown. Prior transgressions include submitting a fake COVID-19 vaccination card and allegedly sending threatening text messages to a woman who accused him of sexual harassment.
Less than 24 hours after Brown’s statement, Arians spoke and our position crystallized:
Antonio Brown (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
A pox on both.
Arians said Brown never mentioned his ankle injury during the game, but he did complain about not getting the ball. “He was very upset at halftime about who was getting targeted,” Arians said, adding that the issue carried over to the third quarter until Brown refused to take the field. The explanation, according to Arians, was “‘I ain’t getting the ball.’ That’s when I said you’re done, get the eff out of here.”
Arians can get the eff out, too, if he’s looking for sympathy.
He knew Brown was mercurial at best and troubled at worst. He signed the player anyway, claiming there’d be a zero-tolerance policy. The fake vax card apparently didn’t count as a strike—perhaps whited-out by five catches and a TD in last year’s Super Bowl—because Arians welcomed Brown’s return last month after the three-game suspension. “I could give a sh-t what (critics) think,” Arians said at the time. “The only thing I care about is this football team what’s best for us.”
It was refreshingly honest and simultaneously sickening. We know superstar talents are granted way more leeway than ordinary Jeromes, but there must be a line somewhere. For the Bucs, Brown committing a criminal offense wasn’t enough, but his unauthorized work stoppage did the trick!
Brown complained that his striptease was characterized as “the result of mental health issues and not a well-known ankle injury.” But believing the latter doesn’t mean the former is untrue. We have far too many armchair psychiatrists, but you almost hope Brown is ill and gets help.
Otherwise, he’s just a jerk, another sizable community.
The Bucs’ Faustian bargain ended with Brown giving them the finger. No team should ever trust him enough to sign him, but dumb decisions and the depths of doltishness are endless in the NFL. We’ll be surprised if he resurfaces and surprised if he doesn’t act out again.
Meanwhile, the playoffs are near and our complicated relationship continues. Ready to watch more NFL football? Yes. Are we still for “players first”? Hell yes.
Can the league kiss our Black ass?
Yes, please, and thank you.
An award-winning columnist and a principal of BlackDoor Ventures, Inc., Deron Snyder is a veteran journalist, stratcomm professional, author, and adjunct professor. A native of Brooklyn and an Alpha from H.U.-You Know, he resides in metropolitan DC with his wife, Vanessa, mother of their daughters, Sierra and Sequoia. To learn more, please visit blackdoorventures.com/deron.
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