By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — For Antonio Brown, this one was easy to avoid.
All that was necessary to prevent this particular rush of negative attention was for the 31-year-old to not pick up the phone, to not allow whatever compulsion coursed through his veins upon hearing of this week’s Sports Illustrated report to guide him to a rash decision, to not go completely over the top with regard to the delivery of his intended message.
Avoiding that seems as though it would generally be quite simple. But for Antonio Brown, it might be impossible.
The latest firestorm stems from Brown including an accuser on a group text chain in which he requested that the woman be investigated while also sharing a photo of her children. Brown made sure to call her a “super broke girl with a lot of kids.” (Brown’s attorney more or less confirmed the authenticity of the texts, as did the reporter who shared them.)
The woman, as one might expect, felt intimidated to receive such messages. Considering her name was withheld in the SI story, and considering she actually got paid for the work she did for Brown, the woman clearly did not speak to SI in an effort to get any money from anyone. She spoke to SI because she remained “bothered” by being approached by a nude Brown — holding only a small towel to cover himself — while working.
Brown’s response to this story was not introspective. He instead allegedly sent a group text insulting and demeaning the woman, while including a photo of her children in his request to have her investigated.
For what it’s worth, Brown — through his lawyer — did deny the allegations from the original SI story. Yet even if those initial allegations were untrue, that could not have justified Brown’s chosen method for a response.
Brown has a strong social media presence, and he could have used those channels to proclaim his innocence.
He also met with reporters in Foxboro on Thursday, which presented another opportunity to proclaim his innocence. He chose instead to avoid all off-field chatter, saying that he’s “just focused on ball” during his 60-second meeting with the media.
If there was one way to prove that he’s not inclined to reacting to vindictive emotions, it would not have involved a text message to an accuser in which he allegedly disparaged and bullied a woman who had said that his actions made her uncomfortable.
For someone who’s been given roughly 10 extra chances in the past few years — most of which have come in the past month — the text messages do not appear to be the actions of someone who’s learned any sort of lesson.
And that’s where the Patriots come in. The team had some sort of out with regard to the civil lawsuit for sexual assault and rape allegations that Brown is facing, as those alleged incidents happened prior to Brown’s signing with the Patriots.
This one, while not quite as egregious as the actions alleged in the lawsuit, happened this week, while Brown was part of the team. The Patriots — whether it was Bill Belichick or anyone else in the front office — have likely instructed Brown that it would be best to be quiet as much as possible, so as not to bring any more negative attention to a player who certainly doesn’t need it. His steep drop in social media activity since signing with the Patriots was surely no coincidence.
So now, we’ll learn exactly how the Patriots feel about Antonio Brown. All of his past misdeeds — the allegations in the lawsuit, the frostbitten feet, forcing his way out of Pittsburgh, threatening Mike Mayock, the helmet fiasco — happened prior to his arrival in Foxboro. These text messages, even though they may not rise to the level of being criminal, certainly would be considered undesirable conduct by most standards. It may well violate the NFL’s personal conduct policy, which prohibits “stalking, harassment, or similar forms of intimidation.” It may violate Brown’s contractual terms with the Patriots, which includes a note that says if Brown “takes any action that materially undermines the public’s respect for” the team, it will lead to the nullification of his guaranteed money.
Of course, the NFL did allow an open door of sorts for this sort of behavior when it issued no punishment at all to Tyreek Hill for threatening the mother of his child. That Hill had previously pleaded guilty to domestic abuse against that same woman seemingly had no impact for the league in making that decision. And so, logically, if Hill’s verbal threat (“You need to be terrified of me, too, dumb b—-“) did not warrant any NFL punishment, the case could be made that Brown should be afforded the same freedom. Making that point, though, overlooks the NFL’s sporadic history of ruling on serious offenses; the past often does not serve as a great indicator of future decisions.
By merely playing along with that established standard, the Patriots could keep Brown on the roster as long as they want. But Wednesday’s alleged text messages just might provide the Patriots with a blunt reminder that all of those things in Brown’s past — the furniture thrown off a 14th-story balcony that could have killed or injured a toddler and an elderly man, driving 100 mph in a 45 mph zone, the multiple allegations included in this week’s SI report — will not magically stop happening simply because he now reports to work at 1 Patriot Patriot Place each morning.
Actions speak louder than words, and though Brown appeared to be following the direction of the Patriots when he finally met with reporters on Thursday, his alleged actions outside of the public light indicate that all of those issues in Brown’s past will continue to remain a part of his present and his future. When it comes to inviting negative attention for all the wrong reasons, it appears as though he can’t help himself.
UPDATE: The Patriots released Antonio Brown from their roster on Friday afternoon.