In 2019, Antonio Brown excoriated the ‘double-standards’ within the NFL, whereupon he was punished, but others are protected. And you know what? He was right.
Let’s begin by stating the obvious—Antonio Brown is a despicable human being.
I believe the technical term is “piece of shit.” But, man, can that guy catch a spiralling sphere of pigskin or what?
And because he is adept at such a unique and admirable skill, Brown has been allowed to amass a personal fortune while comporting himself in ways that would land those of us who aren’t able to execute such remarkable acts of hand-eye coordination in a jail cell. Today, he is a Super Bowl champion.
But Antonio Brown’s misdeeds have been well chronicled to this point, and today’s story isn’t designed to encourage more piling on from those of us who believe we occupy the moral high ground.
This story is about pointing out that amidst all his scandals and suspensions, his fines and the accusations of rape and sexual assault, Antonio Brown actually got something right the other day.
In 2019, Brown declared via Twitter (his preferred social media platform when not accepting responsibility for his actions, deflecting blame, and otherwise showing a lack of remorse or anything even remotely touching on accountability) that he would no longer play football in the NFL.
This is akin to the wayward employee shouting, “I quit!” right after being fired for habitually showing up late for work, often under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and having been caught that very morning urinating on his desk. Yeah, that guy.
However, what I found interesting in the firestorm of finger pointing that accompanied Brown’s declaration of independence from the National Football League is that he actually uncovered a couple of troubling truths with his quickly deleted tweets.
As the NFL door was in the process of hitting him in the proverbial ass, Brown’s parting shots took aim at his frequent foil and former teammate, Ben Roethlisberger, as well as his most recent employer, Robert Kraft.
The miscreant wide receiver accurately reminded us that both men, currently held in good standing by the NFL (a dubious distinction in and of itself), had been dragged through their own sordid sex scandals. Roethlisberger, when he was accused of rape while at a celebrity golf tournament back in 2008, and Kraft in January of this year, when he became caught up in a sting at a Jupiter, Florida, “rub ’n’ tug” massage establishment not far from the 77-year-old billionaire’s Florida compound.
If Brown’s implied message of, “Hey, all the other NFL kids get to stay up late and abuse the opposite sex, so why am I being singled out?” falls on deaf ears given the shitstorm that’s surrounded the deplorable receiver these last several months, the subtext does bear examination.
For instance, why is Ben Roethlisberger still playing quarterback in the NFL and seemingly on his way to being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame once his playing career concludes? I have no idea what actually happened between Big Ben and his accuser at that golf tournament eleven summers ago, but it just so happens that this writer was in attendance at said event.
The Lake Tahoe-based tournament featured dozens of NFL stars, as well as a plethora of other notable heroes across the worlds of sports and entertainment. The great majority of these celebrities went out of their way to sign autographs for the kids that turned out, Sharpies in hand, every morning at the driving range. At dinner, the stars mingled amiably with the “regular people” in town for the event, regaling all with stories of life on the gridiron (or diamond, or hardwood, or ice).
In fact, it was the warmth these celebrities exuded during their time at the tournament that made it so notable when Roethlisberger, then only a callow 26 years of age, distinguished himself as rude, boorish, and off-putting to pretty much everyone who happened to cross his path. There was even an informal poolside straw poll among a few of us to determine who had earned the distinction of being the biggest asshole in attendance. The winner? Well, let’s just say it was a dead heat between Big Ben and former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor.
Yup, the same LT who may have been the greatest pass rusher of all-time, but who’s off-field transgressions would earn him a reputation most would prefer not to be paired with in the category of “unproductive human beings.”
Does that make Ben Roethlisberger a rapist? No, his rape case was “settled” and quietly went away months later. But it doesn’t change the fact that the accusation was made, and at the time there was a fair amount of buzz making the rounds that folks in the know were not surprised by Big Ben being involved in this type of scandal. Brown chose to scratch that scab with his tweet. And he made a point, even if it wasn’t the one he set out aiming for.
Is Roethlisberger being forgiven while Brown was on his way to then-condemnation and a (momentary) trip to the unemployment line another example of society’s view on white versus black? It seems to me that’s at least partly what Brown wanted scrutinised when he sent out his social media missive.
It feels more complicated than that, though. Of course, Brown’s prior history of contemptible behaviour must be factored in, but to say race isn’t a contributing factor here would be to stick one’s head in the end zone turf.
Of course, Brown’s prior history of contemptible behavior must be factored in, but to say race isn’t a contributing factor here would be to stick one’s head in the end zone turf.
And what about Robert Kraft? The septuagenarian owner of the dynastic New England Patriots was on stage at the Super Bowl accepting the Lombardi Trophy mere weeks after being unceremoniously busted for seeking out a very different kind of happy ending than the one he experienced when his Pats bested the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. The smile on his tanned and unnaturally smooth face as he was handed the championship trophy by New York Jets icon Joe Namath (who once drunkenly asked a female reporter for an unwanted kiss on national television) belied a man just coming off an arrest.
Please spare us the whole “crime without criminals” bullshit here, because if we start drawing our own lines around what is illegal but kind of okay when it comes to who we honour and who we revile, we have a different and much trickier problem on our hands. Like Roethlisberger, the fact remains that Kraft was busted, pants down so to speak, yet wasn’t so much as reprimanded by the league.
Would that have been the case if Kraft was a man of colour? With tattoos covering both his arms and an afro reaching toward the heavens?
I know, you can argue that Colin Kaepernick technically wasn’t punished by the league either. That his unemployment since his final season (best remembered for him taking a knee during the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner”) is a result of him not possessing the skills to earn his way onto the roster of an NFL franchise. But, come on, really? Did anyone see who the Jets trotted out as their starting quarterback last weekend?
Kaepernick was most definitely punished. And he is still serving his time. Deservedly so? Well…again, it gets complicated here.
But let’s not turn this into a racism debate. Behavioural issues and antisocial or sociopathic actions are sadly colour blind.
If not, then how come in 2012, with the San Francisco Giants on their way to their second World Series title in three years, their beloved, roly-poly third baseman Pablo Sandoval—“The Kung Fu Panda”—could be arrested on suspicion of sexual assault, yet the entire Bay Area chose to look the other way, pretending as though such charges were never filed.
The Santa Cruz police declined to pursue Sandoval after determining there was insufficient evidence to gain a conviction. The young lady in question had called to report the assault at 4:30 in the morning, asserting that she had been too drunk to give her consent for sexual relations and that the baseball player had raped her. But, in 2012, such a claim was easily dismissed, conveniently tossed into the category of “consensual” and “he said, she said.”
Would the lack of tenacity on the part of the local police have had anything to do with the fact that “Panda” would be a Giants All-Star that season (in fact, he would go on to standing ovations and legendary status in the Bay Area after the 2012 World Series, when he became only the fourth player in history to slug three home runs in a single game)? Did it help that the whole Kung Fu Panda persona conjured visions of a gentle, rotund cartoon character, whose silly, furry hats sold like hotcakes for $25 bucks a pop at the ballpark concession stands?
Pablo Sandoval also tells Fresno Bee, on sexual-assault allegations: “I just focus and play baseball, help my team … http://t.co/DnrQRQpf
— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) June 6, 2012
Sandoval would parlay his World Series popularity into a five-year, $95 million contract with the Red Sox in 2015. A contract he continues to draw a paycheck from today (Panda ultimately returned to San Francisco, delighting the local fandom) despite skills so badly deteriorated that he was practically run out of town in Boston.
Such examples can be cited ad nauseum, and not just from the worlds of pro football and baseball. Case in point, let’s turn our attention to the NBA.
If you were following the offseason news from “The Association” this summer, you might have noted Jason Kidd being brought on board as the lead assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. This hire was made despite Kidd having twice failed in head coaching stints, first in Brooklyn and more recently in Milwaukee. Both Kidd firings were accompanied by whispers that the coach was a manipulative politician and a cancer within the organization. No, Kidd is not the first front office guy to exhibit such character flaws, and in some industries, such bad behaviour is even applauded and rewarded.
But this is the same Jason Kidd who had been arrested and pled guilty in 2001 to domestic assault for punching his wife in the mouth in front of their two-year-old son.
Kidd’s wife would go on to say that physical beatings were a regular part of their years together. Kidd countered by declaring his wife to be the real abuser.
Now, I’m sure there were many sides to all that led up to that 2001 assault, and that the Kidd’s relationship was a complex one, but, regardless of the backstory, can we all agree that striking one’s wife, even once, is an inexcusable offence?
Kidd moved on from his arrest and guilty plea, admitting to little more than anger management issues. He then resumed his career as an elite point guard, receiving a series of multi-million-dollar contracts, before extending his career by joining the coaching ranks.
And, oh yeah, there was Jason Kidd, at that same Lake Tahoe golf tournament back in the summer of 2008, alongside Big Ben and Lawrence Taylor. While Kidd didn’t place in our “biggest asshole celebrity in attendance” straw poll, he did spark his own debate, this one regarding the ages of the trio of young ladies he travelled with over the course of that week.
And what was the consensus over/under arrived at by the Greek chorus convening poolside in Lake Tahoe? Eighteen years of age. Kidd had turned 35 that March. Oy vey—let’s make this guy the face of a franchise, quick.
So, when Antonio Brown borrows the “everybody else is doing it” excuse from the playbook every wayward teen since the beginning of time has fallen back on at least once or twice, he inadvertently gives us all a moment to pause.
The swinging moral pendulum of “Me too,” “gender equality,” and “social justice” has swung far left in rapid, overdue fashion. Many weren’t ready for the reality that would accompany such issues going mainstream, or the consequences that would accompany a national awakening. But such issues will no longer be ignored or justified, and social and moral standards are changing in a way that forces us all to reexamine right and wrong.
Shouldn’t life-altering contracts that pay individuals tens of millions of dollars to play a kid’s game come with responsibility?
Shouldn’t be presented with a worldwide media platform simply because one possesses extraordinary physical prowess to be accompanied by a certain level of required accountability?
Shouldn’t the owners of professional sports franchises—businesses no doubt, but also community stewards charged with safeguarding the hopes, dreams, identities, and emotional rooting interests of vast constituencies—be held to a higher moral standard?
Sure, they should. Abso-fucking-lutely, they should.
Because, just like occasionally a pearl of wisdom may escape from the mouths of babes, there are also occasions where we might find a pony, if only we are willing to wade far enough into that nearby pile of horseshit.