Despite the obvious talent and ability he brought the Patriots on the football field, Antonio Brown’s off-field concerns proved too great to overcome.
First things first: it’s important to point out that Antonio Brown technically has done nothing wrong.
He has been accused by his former trainer and college friend of three separate sexual assault incidents, including rape.
He has been accused of sexual misconduct by an unnamed artist who claims he made inappropriate advances on her.
He has been accused of sending threatening text messages to both of these women and employing intimidation tactics against them.
He has been implicated in a series of questionable encounters with various individuals, some of whom he may or may not still owe money to for services or goods provided in the past.
None of this is meant to suggest Brown’s innocence in these matters, nor is it meant to suggest his guilt. Ultimately the task of assigning blame and finding fault will come down to a combination of NFL investigators, the U.S. judicial system, and potentially even law enforcement if any of these situations becomes criminal in nature.
It’s just important to remember that in an age defined by rapid information dissemination through the advent of the Internet and social media, individuals accused of anything are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty. That is, after all, the foundation upon which our country’s justice system was built upon.
All of that being stated and acknowledged in advance, it’s also appropriate to remember the age-old saying that ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire.’ That expression certainly can be applied in the case of Antonio Brown and his brief but eventful stint with the New England Patriots.
Presumably, the NFL will make a judgment at some point in the future regarding Brown’s alleged role in these sexual misconduct allegations. They may decide to place him on the commissioner’s exempt list. They may decide to suspend him for a set number of games or weeks. They may decide to suspend him indefinitely. They may even decide to do nothing at all.
It all obviously depends on what information they gather from both the accusers and the accused in the coming days, weeks, months, or however long the investigation takes. Eventually a ruling will be made, and Brown’s future as one of the preeminent NFL talents of his generation will certainly hang in the balance until that conclusion is reached. It’s not a stretch to think he’ll remain unsigned by all the other franchises in the league until a final decision is released, too.
But for the Patriots specifically, this was the right call.
It may have been a difficult decision to make. In fact, it almost surely was. How else can you explain the team deciding to stand by and support Brown in the wake of both the initial allegations, as well as all the new information that was reported earlier this week?
Sure, the team may have touted the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ mantra as a defense for keeping AB on the roster, but let’s be honest – the Patriots’ signing of Brown was always about football. Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft, Tom Brady… they all either knew or quickly found out about Brown’s off-field issues when they made him a Patriot. They kept him around because of his track record as a superstar wide receiver.
It was a calculated risk. If he ended up getting suspended or placed on paid leave, they could cut him and move forward with a team still favored to repeat as Super Bowl champions. If he was found to be innocent or the victim himself of a money grab and just plain bad publicity, he’d be allowed to play, and could have conceivably elevated the offense into a juggernaut of 2007-like proportions.
While the team did everything they could to stay the course, weather the storm, and attempt to let due process play out with the league conducting its own investigation, eventually even Belichick must have realized that Brown’s upside as a player could no longer outweigh the increasing public relations nightmare he brought with him as a person and celebrity figure.
If there was ever reasonable doubt to begin with in the AB allegations, that doubt looked to be on life support by the end of this week when Brown allegedly sent threatening texts to one of his accusers – texts that even included photos of the accuser’s children; texts that were sent not just between the accuser and the accused, but also sent to other associates of Brown… associates with criminal backgrounds, no less.
By Friday, enough was enough for Belichick and for the Patriots.
You could hear it in the exasperated fashion by which the New England head coach tried to ward off reporters’ questions regarding Brown in his media availability session just that morning. One of the greatest figures in NFL history had reached critical mass level of fatigue, and the only possible method of relief was to do exactly what the team did just hours later, when they finally made the decision to release Brown once and for all.
It might not be a universally-applauded decision.
Many will criticize the Patriots for cutting Brown before he was afforded the opportunity to present his side of the story to league investigators. Many others will criticize the Patriots for signing Brown in the first place, whether or not they really were aware ahead of time that these rape allegations existed. And some may even criticize the Patriots strictly from a football or competitive standpoint, if only because Brown is simply that phenomenal of a weapon on offense.
It doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, the Patriots made the right decision.
Whether or not Brown is found guilty of any or all of these allegations is irrelevant when considering the 2019 Patriots from a strictly football standpoint. Belichick is certainly equipped to handle all the controversy and supposed locker-room friction a distraction like Brown brings with him, but he shouldn’t have to. This New England team was too good to begin with absent Brown to truly justify risking a run at a seventh Lombardi Trophy over one player.
That’s the luxury of this team this year. It’s no less a contender without Brown than it was with him in the fold… and for that reason alone, it just wasn’t ultimately worth the headache to keep AB in Foxborough a day longer.