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Brown loses helmet grievance with the NFL, but backpeddles his retirement talk

Antonio Brown

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

After threatening to retire if he didn’t get his way, Antonio Brown demurely accepted the news he’d lost his grievance with the NFL about wearing his old helmet and confirmed Monday he would be playing for the Oakland Raiders this season.

“While I disagree with the arbitrator’s decision, I’m working on getting back to full health and looking forward to rejoining my teammates on the field,” he wrote on Instagram. “I’m excited about this season appreciate all the concerns about my feet!”

As detailed over the weekend, Brown was angry the NFL was prohibiting him from wearing his helmet of choice, a 12-year-old Schutt Air Advantage model which is no longer being made and is no longer certified by the National Operating Committee for Standards and Athletic Equipment.

Even though the Raiders had sent him many new helmets to try, Brown had continued to hold firm, saying the new versions impacted his vision. He said last week he’d be willing to retire if the league did not relent.

Brown, who is also dealing with frostbitten feet suffered in a cryotherapy machine in France in July, has not been in training camp since July 30 after missing 11 of the team’s first 12 practices this season.

Sources say they don’t expect Brown will appeal the decision and Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who was highly supportive of Brown’s position, expects him back in on the practice field as soon as he is physically capable.

“He has a strong feeling about what he’s worn on his head, and we’re supporting him,” said Gruden said after Saturday’s exhibition against the Los Angeles Rams. “We understand the league’s position as well, so we’re in a tough spot, and we hope Antonio is here soon because he’s exciting to be around. I’m excited. I’ve got some plays for him. I hope we can start calling them.”

Brown was involved in a two-hour conference call with an arbitrator, league officials, player representatives and NFL Players Association staff on Friday, arguing why he should be allowed to wear his helmet, which he said made him feel safe. The arbitrator obviously felt differently.

The idea of Brown retiring was ludicrous from the start. He signed a three-year, $50.125 million deal with the Raiders in the offseason after being acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers and would have forfeited that if he did not play.

During the meeting on Friday, a source told The Athletic that Brown’s group threatened to sue the NFL if he were to have suffered a head injury wearing one of its suggested helmets.

Five years ago, the NFL worked with the Players Association to begin testing new helmet models for safety. Before the 2017 season, league players were told they could no longer wear those not certified by the league. The NFL did provide players the 2018 season to make the change.

By the end of last season, there were only 32 players, including Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, who were still wearing their old helmets. Brown is the only NFL player who had since refused to comply with the new regulations.

His side had argued the new rule should not apply to him because the league did not specifically test his helmet. And it said the league should have sided with Brown because the helmet made him feel safe on the field.

The NFL announced its new helmet standards in April, saying the personal connection of players to their equipment would be viewed as less important than wearing something which had passed modern-day safety testing.

These helmet rules are a part of the NFL’s broad-based efforts to protect itself from further liability after spending the last few years defending itself from claims it didn’t take the health of its players, especially head traumas, seriously enough.