As wide receiver Antonio Brown prepares to take the field for the Bucs tonight for the first time, advocates against domestic violence say the team has sent a disturbing message to women: Winning matters more than the baggage he carries.
Brown, a seven-time Pro Bowl player and a member of the NFL’s 2010s all-decade team, has had multiple accusations of sexual assault levied against him, including in a lawsuit by a former trainer. He has denied the allegations. No criminal charges have been brought against him from those accusations.
Brown also is coming off an eight-game NFL suspension for violating its personal-conduct policy. The suspension stemmed from his arrest in January, when he was accused of attacking the driver of a moving van at his Hollywood, Fla., home. He pleaded no contest in June to a felony burglary with battery charge and two misdemeanor charges.
The Bucs signed him last month. He hasn’t played since Sept. 15, 2019, with the Patriots, who released him days later in the wake of the assault allegations and related issues.
“(The Bucs are) prioritizing winning over human life,” said Brenda Tracy, a national advocate for women who have been abused and who is a survivor of a gang rape that included two members of the Oregon State football team. “And for me, as an activist and a survivor, it’s disgusting.”
The Bucs believe Brown deserves another shot in the NFL. Coach Bruce Arians has said they will monitor developments in the lawsuit.
“I think when you judge people, is it allegations versus … there’s no convictions of anything,” said Arians, who has been the only Bucs official to speak publicly about Brown.
Tracy’s world was violently turned on its head 22 years ago by her rape. To Tracy and others committed to raising awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault, no argument can rationalize Brown, 32, being on the field tonight against the Saints at Raymond James Stadium.
“I am all for second chances,” said Mindy Murphy, president and CEO of the Spring of Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County’s certified domestic violence center. "You take responsibility, you make amends, and then maybe we think about giving you a second chance.
“But it seems like time and time again, the NFL lets players off the hook because they play great and (it) sweeps these things under the rug and doesn’t recognize that 50 percent of their fans are women.”
A Miami native, Brown’s decade in the NFL has been marked by high production — he has 841 career receptions — and high maintenance. Counting the Bucs, he has been with four teams in the past 20 months.
He spent nine seasons with the Steelers, from 2010-18, before reportedly growing dissatisfied with his role. Pittsburgh traded him to the Raiders in March 2019. The Raiders released him after six bizarre, chaotic months, before he had played a regular-season game with them.
The Patriots signed him in September of that year. His career with them was one game: four receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown in a 43-0 win over the Dolphins in Week 2. Brown was released five days later.
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The former trainer, Britney Taylor, said last year that Brown sexually assaulted her more than once and raped her at his residence in 2018. Taylor never filed a criminal complaint.
More accusations followed. A woman who did artwork for Brown said he made unwanted sexual advances and later sent her intimidating text messages. Sports Illustrated reported that screenshots of the texts featured Brown sending a photo of the accuser’s children and instructions to associates to “look up her background history.”
The NFL is investigating the allegations.
Since he was suspended in July, Brown said, he has been working on himself “within and without,” spending time with life coach Tony Robbins.
“I just feel like I’m a better person,” said Brown, who did not specifically address the lawsuit while speaking Wednesday. “I’ve been learning a lot about myself, working on myself for a year and a half.”
As for his latest NFL chance, “that doesn’t square with me at all, and it’s really, really frustrating,” Tracy said.
Said Clara Reynolds, president and CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County’s certified rape crisis center, “The Bucs are a premier sports organization here in the city of Tampa and in the Tampa Bay community, and fairly or not, there is an expectation that the individuals that they bring on can be seen as leaders and role models in the community. It’s important for the Buccaneers to balance the needs of the franchise with the expectations of the community.”
While Brown’s one-year contract with the Bucs contains no guaranteed money, he could earn up to $2.5 million for a half-season of employment plus playoffs. He is residing with quarterback Tom Brady in the Tampa home Brady is renting from former Yankees star Derek Jeter.
“It’s like, unlimited chances (for Brown) at this point,” said Tracy, who visits college campuses across the country, including USF last year, discussing sexual violence and rape culture, mostly in football programs.
“You’re looking at a man who has proven himself to be abusive. We’ve seen text messages, we have reports, we have other behavior that make us think this could really be true. It’s not just, like, behavior out of the blue, right? You see a lot of bad behavior from him ongoing. … The messaging really is that winning matters the most.”
A USA Today database of arrests involving NFL players shows at least 10 arrests since the start of 2019 on charges involving violence against women. Three of those players are still in the league: Bills linebacker Tyrel Dodson, Broncos linebacker Anthony Chickillo and Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. In the cases of Chickillo and Howard, charges later were dropped. Dodson entered a diversion program and last year was suspended for six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
The database doesn’t include Brown, who now plays for a champion of women’s progress in the NFL.
While coach of the Cardinals, Arians hired Jennifer Welter as an assistant coaching intern in July 2015. Shortly after joining the Bucs, he hired Lori Locust (assistant defensive line) and Maral Javadifar (assistant strength and conditioning) as the organization’s first full-time female coaches. He also is a recent recipient of the Champion for Equality Award from the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Also, when the NFL instituted a training program on domestic violence a few years back, Murphy — whose organization assisted with it — said the Bucs were eager participants, encouraging all staffers and their spouses or partners to participate.
“I think for people that want to doubt the decision (to sign Brown), I defend my record on all those type of things,” Arians said. “So I don’t have a problem with it; it’s not all just about winning.”
Brown’s next hearing in the lawsuit is set for Nov. 25. A trial is scheduled for December.
Orlando attorney David Haas, one of three lawyers listed in court records as representing Taylor, declined to comment.
Said Arians: “Let the court system do its job. If they’re true, (Brown) won’t be with us.”
Murphy called that statement a “loophole observation,” indicating the NFL season could be complete by the time the trial plays out.
“Maybe you decide to believe the victim,” Murphy said. "It would be a policy shift to say, ‘We’re going to start by believing until there’s enough data to say that we don’t have enough to believe.’ "
Last week, Brown’s legal team filed paperwork in effect seeking a delay of the scheduled Dec. 14-18 trial, and the website the Athletic reported Friday that Taylor has suggested in a court filing to delay the trial. A delay could push the trial past the regular season.
Citing FBI statistics, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network says that out of every 1,000 instances of rape, only 13 cases get referred to a prosecutor, and only seven lead to a felony conviction.
“I watched tens of thousands of people cheer my rapist on every weekend,” said Tracy, who stopped pursuing charges against her attackers when authorities indicated her case could take years and require multiple trials.
"These victims are watching people cheer (Brown) on, give him multiple chances, wear his jersey. Even Tom Brady, someone that we look as being an upstanding citizen, co-signing for him to come to a team. So as a survivor, you look at all these people and you think, ‘Do I even matter? Does what happened to me even matter? Does anyone care?’
“And the trauma is lifelong.”
The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay urges those who have suffered from domestic violence, sexual assault or any kind of power-based violence to reach out at crisiscenter.com, or call 2-1-1.
Victims of domestic violence or sexual assault also may reach The Spring of Tampa Bay at www.thespring.org, or by calling its hotline at (813) 247-SAFE (7233).