Patriots coach Bill Belichick is fond of saying that when you acquire a player, you get everything that comes along with that player, from his vertical jump to his work ethic to his personality. The Patriots are getting everything that comes along with Antonio Brown, and they have only themselves to blame.
The Patriots should have had serious reservations about bringing the eccentric Brown aboard before this. He’s anathema to their team-first ethos and a volcanic personality. If they didn’t harbor reservations about the impetuous receiver earlier, they should now that he’s embroiled in a federal lawsuit filed by a former trainer and college friend who alleges that Brown sexually assaulted her three times in the past two years, including an allegation of rape.
Before this, Brown simply had sports baggage — being self-absorbed, selfish, unreliable, and temperamental. The type of stuff teams can write off with bromides about fresh starts and clean slates. The type of stuff fans forgive at the sight of preferred laundry.
Now, he brings much more serious and disturbing real-world concerns, courtesy of this civil lawsuit from Britney Taylor, a former gymnast whom Brown met while both were athletes at Central Michigan. It’s the type of baggage you can’t dismiss as a mere “distraction” in a society awakened to the perniciousness of silencing sexual assault claims. It’s the type of stuff you can’t make go away with a dour expression and a “We’re on to Miami” declaration.
This being America, Brown is innocent until proven guilty. It’s possible that he is the victim of extortion here. But people who make bad decisions tend to find themselves in bad situations. And bad situations are as much a part of what Brown brings as precise route-running and flypaper hands. The Patriots have gotten themselves into one by taking on Brown.
They excused his bizarre behavior and reluctance to suit up for the Raiders. The social media sedition, the wildcat strike over a helmet, his repeated insubordination that dated back to his days in Pittsburgh . . . none of it fazed New England. The Patriots willfully turned a blind eye to Brown’s judgment and his actions.
The lawsuit highlights some of that bad judgment. It contains some incriminating and graphic text messages related to the allegations, specifically that Brown masturbated on Taylor’s back while she was watching a church service on an iPad. This was a tough blow for all those Patriots fans initially justifying Brown’s signing by making false equivalences with players who had been accused of child abuse or domestic violence such as Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill. Patriotologists will have to refrain from wagging their finger westward at Chiefs coach Andy Reid, at least until Brown is exonerated or his accuser’s claims are discredited.
Brown participated in his first practice as a Patriot Wednesday, and the four-time All-Pro probably isn’t going anywhere if it’s up to coach Bill Belichick. The sad reality of the NFL is that many coaches would tolerate 53 criminals if it guaranteed victory. They’re wired to compartmentalize that way.
His Hoodiness probably will batten down the hatches and wait for this controversy to blow over as Brown racks up receiving yards and touchdowns. That’s not a moral judgment of the coach. It’s an objective status report.
On Wednesday, Belichick was at his parrying best. He was peppered with questions about Brown’s situation and dodged and deflected in an uncomfortable news conference. To his credit, Belichick remained calm and professional in the face of dogged and legitimate inquiries he wanted about as much to do with as Eric Mangini.
“On Antonio’s situation, both Antonio and his representatives have made statements,” said Belichick. “I’m not going to be expanding on any of those. They are what they are. We’ve looked into the situation. We’re taking it very seriously all the way through the organization. I’m sure there are questions, but I’m not going to be entering into any discussion about that today. So, that’s where we’re at.”
Then Coach Bill went into his “on to Miami” shtick, but it didn’t work, as the questions kept coming. The real questions Belichick needs to be concerned with are ones that come from the Kraft family.
If Brown is going to be removed from the Patriots roster by the Patriots, it’s going to come at the hands of owner Robert Kraft and team president Jonathan Kraft. They value their brand and public opinion. Perhaps, given his own feelings of persecution regarding the misdemeanor solicitation charges he repelled in Florida, Robert Kraft will be more sympathetic toward Brown and allowing a legal matter to be resolved through due course and due process.
Belichick probably won’t send Brown packing. Instead of “Do Your Job,” the team’s credo should be “We’ll Take Him.” No one expects the Patriots to have the Peace Corps under their helmets, but Belichick has taken on players facing allegations of criminal behavior or with such behavior in their backgrounds before.
He drafted the late Aaron Hernandez, who went to prison for the murder of Odin Lloyd, in 2010 despite red flags regarding the disgraced tight end’s character and drug use. He drafted cornerback Alfonzo Dennard in 2012, five days after Dennard punched a police officer.
In 2016, the Patriots claimed wide receiver Michael Floyd off waivers from the Arizona Cardinals two days after he got arrested for driving under the influence and was so intoxicated that he passed out behind the wheel of his car.
Corey Dillon, Albert Haynesworth, and Aqib Talib were all talented players who passed the Patriots’ roster calculus for acceptance. Dealt for in 2004, Dillon had been arrested in 2000 for domestic violence. (Dillon had the charge dropped after he donated $750 to a domestic violence center and completed treatment.) Haynesworth was acquired in 2011 while he faced a sexual abuse charge for groping a waitress. Haynesworth pled no contest to a lesser charge of simple assault.
Traded to New England during the 2012 season, Talib had been arrested for simple battery on a cab driver in 2009 and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in 2011 after a confrontation with his sister’s boyfriend. The assault charge was dropped.
It’s also possible the NFL, which has notified the Patriots that it is investigating the matter, steps in. Brown could be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, barring him from playing or practicing, while the league conducts its investigation.
Brown already was a dubious fit in Foxborough. One of the NFL’s most recalcitrant stars tucked into the league’s most demanding, rigid, and self-critical culture. These serious allegations call into question even more his suitability to suit up for the Patriots — or anyone else.
As Belichick says, when you acquire a player, you acquire all the qualities he has.
“Every player that we acquire, regardless of how the player gets here, all of the qualities that he has comes with it; his vertical jump, his work ethic, his personality, his strength, his everything,” said Belichick in 2017. “You can work to modify some of those things . . . but we each all have our individual characteristics — physically, our personality makeup, emotionally, intelligence, and so forth.”
So, how much is a seventh Super Bowl title worth to the Patriots to get into business with Brown, knowing everything that comes with it?