Since the time of Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, a cadre of NFL receivers have insistently banged to their own drums, constantly complaining, pouting when they don’t get the ball, acting like fools on the field and off it, asserting to be the most important player on their team by making outlandish statements and doing dumb things.
But you’d have to admit, Antonio Brown has played the game of self-absorption better than any goofball since Terrell Owens with his ridiculous behavior and bizarre demands.
We’ve spent a lot of time the last two weeks talking about Brown and his new employer, the Oakland Raiders. You know the story: The Raiders took a big chance acquiring the mercurial one to bolster their offense, hoping the change of scenery would inspire him to be a solid citizen, a team player, a great teammate.
They offered him a knockout three-year, $54.1 million contract with more than $30 million guaranteed. And what has Brown done to repay the favor? He’s been a major pain-in-the-ass.
Well, after weeks of statements expressing their support of Brown despite his multiple idiosyncrasies, the Raiders finally blew their top on Sunday when he again left training camp in a dispute over this helmet.
“You all know that AB is not here today, right?” said Raiders general manager Mike Mayock. “So, here’s the bottom line: He’s upset about the helmet issue. We have supported that, we appreciate that. But at this point, we’ve pretty much exhausted all avenues of relief.
“So, from our perspective, it’s time for him to be all-in or all-out, OK? So, we’re hoping he’s back soon. We’ve got 89 guys busting their tails, we are really excited about where this franchise is going and we hope AB’s going to be a big part of it, starting Week 1 against Denver. End of story. No questions, OK? Just wanted you guys to know where we were. Fair?”
Brown started his time with the Raiders in full stride. He was a fixture at the team’s offseason workouts. He looked good, appeared happy, was connecting with coach Jon Gruden and his quarterback, Derek Carr.
Then he went to France in July and burned the soles of his feet taking a cryotherapy treatment that placed him on the non-football injury list. Then he reported to training camp floating onto the field in a hot air balloon. Once on solid ground, he missed 11 of the first 12 practices because of his feet.
And then came the helmet issue.
Brown became upset when the league forbade him to wear his old school Schutt Air Advantage helmet because the design was over 10 years old and no longer could be certified for safety. Brown threatened to retire if the league didn’t relent.
Well, guess what? Brown lost his arbitration hearing and didn’t retire. He reported to camp and went to Arizona with his teammates for its preseason game against the Cardinals. Then Brown decided not to report for Sunday’s workout.
“I’m not talking about it anymore,” said Gruden.
If Brown is testing their patience, the Raiders have only themselves to blame. Some say Brown is a future Hall of Famer, one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game. But what is the cost of bringing such a divisive personality into the family?
On Monday, ESPN spoke to Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, who assured everyone Brown was not a malcontent, was excited about playing for the Raiders, but remains anxious about the helmet issue because he feels it’s putting his health at risk.
Rosenhaus said Brown did not leave camp, only that he hadn’t shown up Sunday and thought he’d be back soon, at least once Brown tries out two more helmet models the league has supplied him with.
“He wore this helmet in Pee Wee football, high school football, college at Central Michigan and his entire nine-year career. People keep saying to me there’s 2,000 players that are wearing approved helmets. But there are very few, if any, that have worn the same helmet their entire nine-year career,” said Rosenhaus.
Rosenhaus continued to blabber.
“He’s a wide receiver, he gets hit across the middle, people are trying to take his head off. He’s a big target – you talked about how many catches he’s had over the last six years, for example. This is his life. He’s risking everything. He’s got a family. He’s had a concussion before. This helmet has kept him safe.” said Rosenhaus. “He’s had brutal hits and we’re just trying to find a way to work it out. … The helmet is the most important piece of equipment, and he’s had the same one every single snap he’s played in his football career. It is a major issue for him.”
Big freaking deal.
Look, it’s unlikely the NFL is going to bow down to Brown. To rescind their ruling would mean they’d have to back down to the other 31 players impacted by the new helmet policy, including Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
These new standards were put in place essentially to protect the NFL from further litigation from those claiming it was not diligent enough when it came to protecting their players from head injuries.
“We’ve been talking to helmet companies, trying to get this straightened out, trying to find a helmet that will work, trying to get his helmet approved, trying different helmets,” said Rosenhaus. “Antonio’s probably worn 15 different helmets to try to find something similar to what he currently has. We’ve been unable to do that, but we’re going to continue to work.”
The NFL needs to hold firm on this. Brown reportedly returned to the team on Monday. But he should be treated the same as every other player in the league. Despite how he feels, he is not special, he’s just spoiled and it’s time someone puts an end to it.