Antonio Brown says Bucs promoted ‘false narrative’ that he quit the team

Meanwhile, the Buccaneers continue to consider procedural options to part ways with the enigmatic receiver.
Antonio Brown wipes his face as he leaves the field during the third quarter of Sunday's game against the New York Jets in East Rutherford, N.J.
Antonio Brown wipes his face as he leaves the field during the third quarter of Sunday's game against the New York Jets in East Rutherford, N.J. [ ANDREW MILLS | NJ Advance Media ]
Published Jan. 5, 2022|Updated Jan. 6, 2022

TAMPA ― Antonio Brown says he was injected with a painkiller and forced to play with a bone fragment and other damage to his left ankle during the Bucs’ 28-24 win over the Jets on Sunday.

But when the receiver refused to play hurt in the second half, Brown said coach Bruce Arians told him, “You’re done!” and ran his finger across his throat in a slashing motion, the receiver said in a statement released through his attorney, Sean Burstyn, Wednesday night.

Brown removed his jersey and shoulder pads, flung his undershirt and gloves into the crowd and ran across the end zone before leaving through the tunnel at MetLife Stadium with the Bucs driving down the field during the third quarter.

The Bucs rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat the Jets on Tom Brady’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Cyril Grayson with 15 seconds remaining.

Arians said after the game that Brown was “no longer a Buc” and indicated he had quit in the middle of the game.

“First they cut me. Now they cage me,” Brown said in the statement. “Instead of asking how I felt or getting to the bottom of it, the team texted my camp promoting a totally false narrative that I randomly acted out without any explanation. They even told us in writing, ‘don’t spin this’ any other way.

“... The worst part of this has been the Bucs’ repeated effort to portray this as a random outburst. They are telling people that first I walked off, then I was cut. No. No. No. I was cut first and then I went home. They threw me out like an animal, and I refused to wear their brand on my body, so I took my jersey off.”

The Bucs said they would have no comment on Brown’s statement Wednesday night.

Brown has remained in New York, where he said he underwent an MRI on the ankle that was examined by Dr. Martin O’Malley of Hospital for Special Surgery and revealed he had bone fragments and a ligament torn from the bone, as well as cartilage loss.

According to Brown, the Bucs “ordered” him under penalty of discipline to be examined Wednesday by what he termed “a junior doctor” at the hospital with a few hours’ notice for a second opinion, but he refused.

“What a joke,” Brown said. “They’re playing like I wasn’t cut, giving me a surprise attack ‘order’ to show up to another doctor with no reasonable notice, and setting this whole thing up as a basis to cut me because what they did on Sunday was not legitimate.”

Arians reiterated Wednesday that Brown is no longer a part of the team even though he remains on the roster while general manager Jason Licht considers procedural options to part ways with the receiver. “It’s a management decision with what’s happening right now,” Arians said.

One of those options was eliminated Wednesday, when the league said Brown could not be punished under the personal conduct policy for “conduct detrimental.” “It’s a team matter,” Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s vice president of communications told the Tampa Bay Times.

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The Bucs could release Brown, but he would be subject to waivers and could be claimed by another team. However, Brown says he will need surgery on his ankle, and it appears both his career in Tampa Bay and 2021 season are over. The team also could deactivate him for the remainder of the season.

Brown injured the ankle in an Oct. 14 win at Philadelphia. He was suspended three games for misrepresenting his vaccination status but returned two weeks ago to catch 10 passes for 101 yards in a 32-6 win over the Carolina Panthers.

Brown was limited during a walk-through practice the Wednesday before the Jets game but did not participate the rest of the week and was listed as questionable before being cleared to play in the game by the Bucs’ medical staff.

He caught three passes for 26 yards in the first half and showed no visible signs of pain during the 26 offensive snaps he participated in.

But Brown said Arians became angry when he wouldn’t return to the game in the second half with the Bucs trailing by two touchdowns.

“Because of my commitment to the game, I relented to pressure directly from my coach to play injured,” Brown said. “Despite the pain, I suited up, the staff injected me with what I now know was a powerful and sometimes dangerous painkiller that the NFLPA has warned against using, and I gave it my all for the team. I played until it was clear that I could not use my ankle to safely perform my playing responsibilities.”

Arians acknowledged the sideline conversation on Monday but insisted that Brown didn’t say anything about the injury.

Brown’s attorney said the Bucs have engaged in a campaign of “false concealment” by suggesting that what happened Sunday “was the result of mental health issues and not a well-known ankle injury.”

“We all know that the NFL does not condone the ordering of players in pain or at risk of serious injury to play,” Burstyn wrote on Twitter. “Moreover, the injury and location of the visible bone fragment prevented AB from being able to make the type of football moves that he is famous for.

”Imagine yourself trying to avoid a linebacker homing in for a big hit and not being able to cut in time to avoid the hit (and keep running)? A team cannot and should never put a player at such risk. And then to simply conceal such conduct by writing him off as erratic is unlawful.”

Said Brown, “I gave the Bucs everything I had on the field. What the organization is doing now needs to get cleaned up. I do not understand how people publicly claiming to be concerned about my mental health can do these things to me in private.”

Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski said players are prepared to move on without Brown, treating the situation as if he is injured again.

“You’re kind of in that situation throughout the whole year when someone’s missing,” Gronkowski said. “You see someone go down. In this aspect, it’s not an injury, it’s a different way that some other people have to step in.

“It’s football. That’s what it is. It’s other teammates stepping up, and that’s what we’ve got to do. For example, look at Cyril. He stepped up his game and had a touchdown in the final minute of the game. It’s the next guy up.”

Bucs defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh said Brown’s teammates remain supportive of him and are willing to help in any way they can.

“I think everybody has compassion and has true hearts to understand that something is going on that needs to be taken care of on a personal level, and we’re here to help you,” Suh said. “But you have to want help at the same time, as well.”

Suh, who received a lot of negative attention early in his career and was once regarded as a “dirty” player due to personal foul penalties, said people are too quick to judge players without knowing what’s going on in their personal lives.

“The important thing is take an unbiased look at people and do the homework,” Suh said. “Take the time to get to know somebody. Ask them questions. And then you take your opinion based on those reactions.

“Don’t make an opinion of somebody because you saw something, you read something, because you absolutely don’t know what transpired and what took place.”

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