Antonio Brown started off his first Sunday of unemployment with a now-deleted tweet storm that targeted a wide range of people, including former Pittsburg Steelers teammate Ben Roethlisberger and NFL analyst Shannon Sharpe. In the string of tweets, Brown seemed to have a clear message to communicate — that the league has no problem tolerating men who’ve been accused of sexual assault.
“4 games for Big Ben crazy world I’m done with it,” he wrote of Roethlisberger’s 2010 sexual assault investigation.
“Shannon Sharp the funny guy on tv still after this,” Brown wrote.
In the tweets, its clear that Brown sees himself as the victim of a system with a double standard, that allows some men to play despite (alleged) acts of sexual violence (neither Roethlisberger nor Sharpe faced charges), while others are cut unceremoniously. That’s a fair critique.
In an attempt to make his point, Brown also wrongly called out Patriots owner Robert Kraft, drawing a false equivalency between both their legal troubles.
“Kraft got caught in the parlor AB speculations fired different strokes different folks clearly,” he wrote in a now deleted tweet.
Though Robert Kraft was charged with soliciting prostitution in Florida, it’s important to note that no charges of human trafficking — which the police alleged was taking place at the parlor Kraft visited — were filed. There’s a huge difference between consensual sex work and sexual assault and the two shouldn’t be conflated.
Still, while there’s nothing redeemable about Brown’s conduct, he does have a point that can’t be ignored. The NFL and its fans will absolutely tolerate allegations of sexual assault. Ben Roethlisberger and Jameis Winston are examples of that. The league also has a troubling history of timidly disciplining men accused of violence toward women. Just look at Tyreek Hill, Greg Hardy, Reuben Foster and Kareem Hunt. All of professional sports, not just the NFL, is littered with athletes who have not just survived “alleged misconduct” but thrived in spite of it. Again, just look at Derrick Rose or Kobe Bryant.
As our own Chris Korman accurately predicted, Brown ended up being cut not because of the allegations against him, but because he became a distraction that couldn’t be ignored. The only sin in the NFL is hurting the league’s bottom line. Brown was released from the Patriots not because the team suddenly grew a conscience, but because head coach Bill Belichick grew tired of answering questions about him. The Patriots played Brown even after the first allegation of sexual assault came out. They cut him only after Sports Illustrated started digging into other allegations and it became apparent that associating with Brown would tarnish the reputation of the entire team, including golden QB Tom Brady.
It’s tempting to view Brown’s accusations in a vacuum, as just one person’s misbehavior. Yet, as Brown has unintentionally pointed out in his now deleted tweets, his actions are just a part of a larger system that goes out of its way to protect powerful men.
Brown could have easily benefited from that system but he stepped out of line one too many times and forfeited that protection and all the money and privilege that comes with it. As painful as it is to admit, sexual assault allegations would not have been the end of Brown’s career, and even though he says he’s done playing in the NFL, there’s no ruling out that a team takes a chance on him in the future.
For now, fans have been allowed to blissfully bury their heads in the sand again and pretend that the problem of Antonio Brown has been dispensed with. By treating Brown as a singularity, an outlier in an otherwise good system, Sunday afternoon escapism can proceed as the NFL intended. The harder truth is that Brown is the product of a broken system that prizes profit above all else that only skirts the line of morality when it serves its own interests.