“Come On Man” – NFL to Antonio Brown
My “hypothetical” letter from the NFL League Office to AB and
Gruden’s Best Advise Ever.
Protect the shield at all cost. It’s America’s Game… We’re crushing the ratings. We have parity! Passion for the game is back and we have record-breaking profits. WE – ARE – ROLLING! PLEASE ANTONIO CUT THE SH*T.
Before social media and TMZ we (the NFL) were able to react to disciplinary issues in a more “effective” less public way. A player may have gotten arrested, charged and maybe even arraigned in court. The call would come in from the police, or the player himself would alert his team of the arrest, just to give them a heads up. The team would then contact the League Office and we could go to work collecting the facts, understanding the situation and crafting our response. We were ahead of the game! We could monitor, observe and react to the situation. If a player pled guilty, was found guilty or took a diversionary program the police gathered the proof and facts during the course of their criminal investigation in preparation for a criminal prosecutions. We could hand out discipline based on the criminal justices systems’ evaluation, not ours! We were off the hook; the decision was already made for us. The newspapers ran the story and days or months later it would be just a blip on our radar screen, as we would be preparing for America’s biggest event of the year, the Super Bowl. But now, there’s social media, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter (and on and on) there is no sign of it ever ending. And, even worse, there are cameras everywhere, not the good old fashion Polaroid (we miss those days), but cameras that are capable of doing the unimaginable, taking videos. Body cams, GoPros, cell phone cams etc., etc. you’re always being watched and, the most ridiculous part, after the video is taken, with a push of a button or a swipe of a finger that video is sent to the entire world. What an AWESOME thing! …wait, what a TERRIFYING thing. But, you my friend have quickly become the outlier. Forget about the issues in Pittsburg; forget about your feet being frost bitten in the cryo chamber; forget about your quest to wear a helmet that probably contributed to our concussion protocol. Let’s even forget about the fact that you called your General Manager a cracker. ALL IS FORGIVEN. But, what the hell are we suppose to do with the fact that your conduct with these women is now in the forefront of all NFL discussions. Not great quarterback play, not the Cowboys looking dominate, not the Falcons setting records for penalties, not Brew Brees thumb surgery, not the benching of Eli Manning. None of those stories are carrying the headlines. Social media, television and print media are dominated by you. Now before you even say it, NO you haven’t been arrested. NO, there are no criminal charges pending and NO, there is no criminal investigation. But, there is a real live woman out there that says you forcibly raped her. In criminal court allegations are just that, allegations until they are proven beyond a reasonable doubt because you’re cloaked with the presumption of innocence. In the court of public opinion, you’re an allegation and stupid text message away from being guilty. And you AB, you’ve provided that.
So here we (NFL) sit interviewing the alleged victim of a sexual assault and we’ll interview you as well for your side of the story. She’ll say “she was sexually assaulted”. You’ll say “it was consensual and it’s just a money grab”. She’ll say “look at the text messages” and you’ll say “they’re not the best representation of me but, I didn’t rape anybody”. Well, what about the artist that claims you walked up behind her naked? “Don’t I have the right to walk around my own house naked?” And right then and there, right at this critical point of your interview both you, AB, and the NFL will realize that Coach John Gruden was giving you the best advise that you were ever given: “let’s just go play some football…”
I think it would be unprecedented if the NFL discipline Antonio Brown without a criminal case pending and a civil case for money damages in play. Unprecedented but not improbable or impossible. One thing is certain, as outsiders, we’ll never know all the facts and circumstance that are integral in making an informed decision or to base a reasonable opinion. Further, without a criminal investigation, there is no impartial party (a prosecutor whose job it is to seek justice not convictions) involved to evaluate these issues. AB clearly needs to learn to treat people better. And if the alleged victims indeed were sexually assaulted it is a horrific and unimaginable thing that needs to be addressed with the harshest of penalties. But, let me say this. The most difficult thing that I learned as a prosecutor was that people, men and women, will lie about being sexually assaulted. To this day, it’s difficult for me to understand how someone can lie about such a thing. However, it happens. In the criminal justice system it’s called the presumption of innocence. In the real world it’s call the benefit of the doubt. The presumption of innocence is a right given to everyone. Conversely, the benefit of the doubt is a function of people’s opinions, or in this case, public opinion. AB the issue is, in the court of public opinion you’re not giving anyone anything to hold on to.
It’s an easy thing to gang up on AB right now and if indeed he sexually assaulted these women there is a heavy price to pay, AND HE MUST PAY THAT PRICE. And yet, AB seems to be in a place in life, a pivot if you will, that will determine how the rest of his life is lived. It’s not a good start calling out Robert Kraft and Shannon Sharpe on social media. They are not you. You are not them, and the situations are irrelevant and absolutely different. My only suggestion as you make this pivot in your life is that you do so with dignity, humility and grace. Understand the gravity of the situation that you put yourself in and surround yourself with someone that not only tells you to stop the tweets but also has the balls to take your phone away.