We now know that Antonio Brown cannot be trusted. This is regrettable, but not surprising.
He has left a trail of transgressions and confrontations that stretch the length of his NFL career, whether you are charting by years, miles or disappointments. The three-game suspension handed down by the league Thursday for lying about his vaccination status is simply the latest confirmation.
The bigger question today is whether we can still have faith in the Buccaneers.
When they chose to get in bed with Brown, they understood they were taking on the burden of his character. And now that he has embarrassed the organization that stuck its neck out to give him yet another chance, there is no way they can continue to keep him on the roster.
That is, unless winning means more than integrity.
There is no doubt the Bucs are a better team with Brown in the huddle. Even at age 33, even with all of the off-field distractions, he remains a cut above the average NFL receiver. If the Bucs want to win back-to-back Super Bowls, their chances are better if Brown is still around in January.
But if the Bucs want us to believe that honor matters, they need to sever their relationship.
Head coach Bruce Arians basically predicted this scenario seven months before the Bucs plucked Brown out of NFL purgatory last year. When asked about Brown on ESPN reporter Adam Schefter’s podcast in the spring of 2020, Arians was clear that he had no interest in taking on the receiver’s oversized luggage.
“There’s too much miscommunication,” Arians said. “Too much … diva.”
Yet the combination of injuries to receivers, and the urging of quarterback Tom Brady, convinced Arians, general manager Jason Licht and the Glazer family to sign Brown at midseason.
Even after reports surfaced that he had destroyed a security camera, cursed out a property manager and threw a bike at a security gate in his south Florida neighborhood just days before signing with the Bucs, the team suggested he was a changed man. And when he settled a civil suit in the spring from a former trainer who accused him of sexually assaulting her, the Bucs quickly re-signed him.
“He’s been a model citizen,” Arians told Sirius Radio in November 2020. “If and when he’s not, we’ll move on. He knows that, our team knows that.”
And now the team knows that he lied about his vaccination status. In fact, they’ve known for quite some time.
Ever since Tampa Bay Times reporter Rick Stroud began looking into the validity of Brown’s vaccination card, the Bucs have danced around the truth. Never directly saying the card was real, but using enough vague language to make it sound as if this was some type of witch hunt.
It is, in some ways, as damning as Brown’s own lies.
And do not pretend that this isn’t a big deal. It’s not about whether Brown had misgivings about COVID vaccinations. Other players in the league have refused the vaccination, but did not try to deceive their teammates and employer with an apparently bogus card.
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No, this is the bombshell that everyone anticipated but hoped could be avoided.
Brown has always behaved as if the rules did not apply to him. Team rules? NFL standards? Societal norms? Didn’t matter. As Arians presciently suggested, Brown believed his talents made him a diva.
In retrospect, it’s almost comical that Brown could be so foolish. Two years ago, Sports Illustrated published an investigative report that talked of a half-dozen lawsuits from doctors, trainers, personal assistants and chefs who claimed Brown refused to pay his bills.
And now his career is in jeopardy again because he refused to pay a chef, who exacted his revenge by revealing Brown’s pursuit of a fake vaccination card.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin once told his team, according to an ESPN.com report, that he would tolerate Brown only as long as his production exceeded his propensity to find trouble. The Raiders and Patriots later came to the same conclusion.
Now, it is Tampa Bay’s turn. There is no gray area, there is no waffling. Now, it is simply a question of grace or greed.
Two weeks ago, the Bucs essentially looked the other way and, because of that, the community is now looking at them.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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