I don’t think I have ever written about sports on this blog before & I never planned to do so. In fact I had an entirely different blog post in mind for today. But then I sent a voice note to a friend a few minutes ago about the Antonio Brown saga & how it’s forced me to confront some of my internal prejudices while also addressing some highly complex issues at stake in our society. The reason I messaged this particular friend about this subject is because she is not American & does not follow the NFL, so I feel like she is more likely to have an objective opinion on the matter than any of my other friends or acquaintances. Anyhow, it got me to thinking that this whole saga is actually very worthy of a blog post, particularly in light of the fact that the media often focuses on only the most salacious details rather than the underlying issues at hand.
First off, if you aren’t familiar with Antonio Brown, do a quick Google search &/or read his Wikipedia page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Brown) to get some background on him. The reason that his name is back in the headlines again is because on Sunday he got in a verbal altercation with his team’s coach on the sidelines & then proceeded to rip off his jersey, helmet, & shoulder pads; run across the field shirtless; & exit the stadium mid game. Hilarious? Not going to lie- yes, I laughed when I saw the video. And yes, I have laughed at the memes (& still am). But upon closer inspection, clearly this is NOT normal behavior & really is no laughing matter.
As if that situation wasn’t bizarre enough, it’s now come out that he snuck a 23 year old Only Fans model-whose initial claim to fame was licking toilet seats in an effort to catch Covid (INSERT MASSIVE EYE ROLL)- whom he’d never actually met before- into his hotel room the night before the game. This of course was against NFL Covid protocols. As if THAT isn’t bizarre enough, she claims he encouraged her to film them having sex so she could share it to her Only Fans account (apparently she agreed). Keep in mind this is not a COLLEGE player- this is a 33 year old man with 6 children by 3 different women (at least if Wikipedia has it right). She also claims he was constantly rambling & generally speaking incoherently as if he were either drunk, on drugs, or generally not in his “right mind.” As if all of THAT isn’t bizarre enough, he also posted his bank account information online later this week. Uhhhhh….
I’m not going to recount his entire background but it is important to note that prior to this weekend’s unusual events Brown has been accused of rape & sexual assault on multiple occasions by multiple different women. He has also been caught driving over 100 mph as well as throwing furniture from his 14th story apartment building, endangering a toddler in the process. The police have also been called to his house in Florida multiple times for various domestic disputes. AND he has been arrested for assaulting a truck driver. To say that Brown has a long & ignominious history is putting it quite mildly.
Now here’s what I really want to examine- my reactions to this situation & what we as a society can learn from all of this.
First- my own reactions to this: I can guarantee if I’d read this story 5 or more years ago, I would have immediately said “What a disgusting man. He’s a disgraceful thug. Get him off the field & out of the news forever” & never have pondered the situation any deeper. I was particularly reminded of this when I was perusing the screenshots of his text messages with the Only Fans model which included plenty with less than perfect grammar. (Being a grammar nerd myself, I won’t lie- bad grammar is something about which I have to consciously remind myself not to be overly judgmental.) If I’m being truly honest, that is still my initial gut reaction to this whole saga.
HOWEVER, now that I’m older & have had a lot more time to examine my own internal prejudices I have to say that I do still have some (perhaps limited) compassion for Antonio Brown. It’s clear to me that he is not in a healthy mental state- & probably hasn’t been for a long time. Is it possible he is just a really gross, obnoxious, & dangerous man? Sure. Or is his erratic behavior the result of some kind of untreated mental illness? Quite possibly. Is it related to drugs or alcohol? Maybe- but that seems a bit less likely what with all the testing NFL players are subject to on a regular basis. Is it also possible that his behavior is a result of brain damage from chronic or repeated concussions related to his football career? Absolutely. And that right there is something that needs to be addressed & takes me squarely into my second point.
What can we as a society learn from all of this?
Well, first off we should learn that when NFL players (or other celebrities) are given multiple chances- like Brown was- & continue to display erratic or violent behavior- whether on the field or off- we need to pull the plug on their careers a lot sooner. Just because someone is a talented entertainer (whether an athlete or a musician or something else) that does not excuse them from treating others well & generally being a decent, lawful person. After all, what kind of message are we sending to our kids (& adults) when we tolerate bad behavior just because someone is talented, famous, or wealthy?
Reviewing Brown’s history, if there is any evidence to back up the claims of rape & sexual assault, not to mention the other various incidents, he should never have remained on any NFL team. Let’s be real- would most of us average Joes (or Janes?) be allowed to keep our jobs- especially if we have a job like a doctor, nurse, or teacher where we are considered role models for children- if we were accused of things like that? HIGHLY unlikely! And I can guarantee, regardless of our jobs, most of us average folks would no longer be employed if we ripped off our shirts & ran around shirtless before leaving our jobs mid shift. Nope, we’d be fired in a heartbeat. As it turns out, Brown WAS fired over this incident & deservedly so, if you ask me. If this were the only bizarre & obnoxious incident of his, perhaps he would deserve another chance. But, as we’ve discussed, it’s not the only one, not by a long shot.
Having said all of that, as mentioned above, I think we would be greatly remiss if we didn’t take a moment to consider the possibility that a lot of Brown’s behavior could be related to either untreated mental illness or brain damage from concussions. If either is the case, that doesn’t mean we have to tolerate his bad behavior of course. But it DOES mean that we need to stop dismissing him as “just another thug” & think about the greater consequences of these issues when they are not recognized or treated. There has long been a stigma in our society against mental health, but I think you could argue that stigma may be greatest for black men. Who better than NFL players (or Kanye West) to shine a light on this issue for an underserved portion of our society? After all, what kind of message does it send to your average black man if black male celebrities who are struggling with mental illness or addiction are just dismissed as thugs? If a black male celebrity isn’t worthy of help for these issues, how do you think that makes the average black man feel?
My point is- if we are truly bothered by Brown’s behavior, we can’t just call him a thug & say “case closed.” We have to dig deeper. We have to address the underlying issues at play here or we’ll never stop seeing this kind of behavior. It’s just like racism- if we don’t call it out when it happens, it will never end.