Ever since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown took off his jersey and walked out of MetLife stadium during Sunday’s matchup with the New York Jets, social media has blown up with theories, stories, and rants. The millions of tweets and posts about the incident snowballed after the game when Bucs head coach Bruce Arians stated that he “is no longer a Buc”, but as it turns out, that was just the tip of an ugly iceberg. As the hours passed, more information was revealed about Brown’s ankle injury and then the next morning, Brown told his side of the story.
It was at this point that my opinion began to shift. Brown has a checkered history on and off the field (to put it nicely) and frankly hasn’t earned the benefit of doubt that others with cleaner histories might have received in this situation. My initial reaction to Brown stripping and leaving the field mid-game on Sunday was to say “well, it was only a matter of time”. This is not the first organization he left under bizarre circumstances and it may not be his last, but his clearly-written-by-someone-else side of the story was compelling and completely believable.
Brown claimed, among other things, that he was given dangerous painkillers and forced to play on Sunday despite a serious ankle injury. During the game, there was a confrontation with Arians and Brown in which, according to Brown, the coach told him that “if [he] didn’t play hurt, then [he] was done with the Bucs” and when Brown refused to go back into the game, Arians told him “YOU’RE DONE”. Brown then left the field (in the most Brown-like way, half-naked and riling up the fans). His description of the events struck a chord with me and screams old-school football. Professional football for decades was a place where players were forced take shots of painkillers and sacrifice their long-term health for the betterment of the team on any given Sunday. While it’s still a part of the game, there have been a lot of health and wellness policies in place over the last decade or so that prevent some of the abuses of old.
Bruce Arians has been a coach in some capacity since the mid-70s and grew through the ranks of football when the consideration for a players body wasn’t even on the radar. While I believe the truth is somewhere between Brown’s statement and Arians’ statement, Brown’s statement is both believable and potentially seriously damaging. If he was in any way forced to take painkillers and play through a chipped bone in his ankle, then Arians has no place in the NFL as a coach. That’s a big if, but still. The main issue preventing us from learning the truth and believing his story? Brown himself.
If Brown had left his initial statement as is and just moved on from Sunday, the narrative would be very different today. Instead, he decided to use the opportunity to scorch the earth and make everyone around him pay (or so he thinks). In a fit of anger or delusion, Brown chose to post pictures of text conversations with Arians and trainer Alex Guerrero while also calling out Tom Brady for his connection with Guerrero. Oh yeah, and he accidently put an image with his bank account information in it for all to see (he later deleted it, but not before a ton of people saved it). Anyone who was sympathizing with Brown, myself included, is now left to once again question their own feelings on the clearly mentally unstable receiver.
And did I mention he dropped a new song, “Pit Not The Palace” just after he grabbed headlines by running off the field mid-game? It’s getting hard to find redeeming qualities about Brown and I’m already regretting sympathizing with the man on Monday. For his sake, I hope he is getting the support he needs and that the network around him is strong.
The story is clearly not over and I’m guessing we won’t ever have the true version of what happened, but as of Thursday, Brown is officially no long a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and is headed for ankle surgery with the intent, it seems, to return to the NFL next season. Regardless of how you feel about Brown, Arians, or the Bucs, this story has been drama-filled and exhausting to follow. I can’t wait to see what happens next.