The NFL and the New England Patriots must both decide how to handle Antonio Brown in the wake of a rape lawsuit filed against the star receiver.
Unfortunately, anyone who thought the drama and off-the-field distractions would cease once Antonio Brown arrived in New England now knows the truth: controversy follows this superstar receiver wherever he goes in 2019, and the Patriots are no exception.
The most recent news story surrounding Brown should rightfully trump all the others this offseason, however. Brown’s frost-bitten feet, helmet dissatisfaction, and exodus from the Oakland Raiders organization all made for click-worthy digital entertainment and eyebrow-raising intrigue during the slowest part of the football calendar year, but Britney Taylor’s civil lawsuit filed against Brown on Tuesday is anything but another installment in the AB soap opera.
If her accusations of multiple sexual assaults are found to be true, then the Patriots need to immediately release Brown and put as much distance between them and the receiver as is humanly possible.
This is an organization that has been plagued by high-profile instances of misconduct, legal mishaps, and character issues from prominent members of the team, most notably in the case of Aaron Hernandez and most recently with owner Robert Kraft. The Patriots can ill-afford the public relations nightmare of being associated with another miscreant, particularly since the matter concerns sexual abuse and assault.
Granted, unlike Hernandez, neither Kraft nor Brown has been found guilty of their respective accusations as of yet.
The legal trial regarding solicitation charges against Kraft is still ongoing, and if anything, it appears now more than ever that he may end up getting exonerated. It’s worth noting that the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell also held off from disciplining Kraft when the massage parlor scandal went public last February, preferring instead to let due process occur within the American judicial system.
Because of that, there could be some precedent for taking a similar approach to the Antonio Brown lawsuit as well. While Goodell and the NFL office are reportedly considering placing Brown on the commissioner’s exempt list, according to Bleacher Report’s Mike Chiari, there’s also speculation that the league could choose to let the civil suit play out in court before taking any immediate action against Brown one way or another.
It’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation, obviously.
Should the NFL do nothing, it raises legitimate questions and concerns about why the league’s strict personal conduct policy exists, given that this is the exact type of situation those rules were created to govern in the first place. There’s also the accompanying bad press that could come from the league again being inactive when a star player gets accused of violence against a woman or child (ie. what happened with the Kansas City Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill).
Conversely, if the NFL does act swiftly and puts Antonio Brown on paid leave, they send a contradictory message after the manner in which they handled Hill’s situation (and Kraft’s) just months earlier. The league was very outspoken about wanting to let the proper authorities conduct full investigations in both instances, deferring to the legal system in general before taking any punitive action.
Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has maintained his client’s innocence, insisting this entire ordeal is nothing more than “a money grab.” He also noted in an ESPN television interview that he and Brown were aware of the possibility of this lawsuit, though he declined to share whether the Patriots also knew anything about the matter before they signed him.
Brown’s legal team released a statement Tuesday night after the story broke professing the receiver’s innocence. Of note is the statement’s repeated claims to a “consensual” personal relationship between Brown and Taylor, as well as a detailed reference to potential extortion attempts by Taylor on Brown during their time spent together in 2017 and 2018.
ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio suggested Wednesday that the NFL could, in fact, move quite quickly in conducting their investigation into this whole matter. All parties have publicly indicated their willingness to speak on the topic (namely, both Taylor and Brown), and the lawsuit Taylor filed Tuesday morning in Florida is a matter of public record now, as is Brown’s official statement released through his lawyers.
The Patriots, for their part, have deferred to the NFL with regards to the whole situation. The team released an official statement acknowledging that they were aware of the lawsuit and that they “take these allegations very seriously.” New England also stated that “the league has informed us that they will be investigating,” which essentially puts the ball in the NFL’s court when it comes to any potential discipline.
Bill Belichick, for his part, refused to comment further on Brown’s situation during a Wednesday press conference (video courtesy of ESPN). He repeatedly shut down reporters’ questions on the matter and attempted to steer the conversation back to football and the Patriots’ preparations for the Miami Dolphins. Finally, an exasperated Belichick cut the conversation off early and walked away from the podium.
The Patriots did have Brown in practice on Wednesday, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss. Brown was seen warming up with his teammates and participating in stretches and drills.
It’s probably safe to say that until they hear otherwise from the league, New England plans to proceed as if Antonio Brown will be in their starting lineup come 1 pm EST as the team takes on the Dolphins down in South Beach.
Stay tuned for more updates as they become available.