Antonio Brown hasn’t just crashed the NFL’s 100th birthday party, he’s hijacked it.
The league planned on this season being a six-month celebration of its best games, biggest names and most iconic moments. Instead, it’s going to be all about AB, and there’s not a damn thing the NFL, the New England Patriots or even the iron-handed Bill Belichick can do about it.
Brown’s former trainer accused the receiver of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Florida. It’s far too soon to make a judgment on the allegations; there are text messages that, if authentic, are troubling, while Brown’s attorney called the allegations a “money grab” and said any sexual encounters were consensual.
It will be weeks, and more likely months, before there’s any resolution to the lawsuit. Which means the NFL and the Patriots are stuck with this never-ending sideshow.
No matter how many times Belichick tries to stonewall and say the Patriots are on to whoever they’re playing that week, it won’t stop the questions about Brown. Anytime Commissioner Roger Goodell appears in public, he’ll be asked for an update on the wide receiver or to assess the various possible outcomes.
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At every game and every practice, Brown will be under a microscope, his body language and interactions with Tom Brady and Belichick assessed and debated for even the slightest hint of trouble or discord.
And that’s assuming Brown doesn’t create any new dramas. Good luck with that.
The NFL had to have hoped the AB circus would fold its tents once he signed with the Patriots. Belichick doesn’t make allowances for anyone, even Brady, and the assumption was that Brown would toe the line just as Randy Moss and Chad Johnson did.
Anybody who really believed that hasn’t been paying attention the last six months. Heck, just the last six days should have been enough.
The Oakland Raiders thought they had the deal of the century when they acquired Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers for what was essentially a bag of footballs. But the Raiders soon found out there’s a price to pay for Brown’s colossal talents.
First it was the cryotherapy gone wrong, which left Brown with frost-bitten feet. Then it was the holdout over not being able to wear his beloved but outdated helmet. No sooner had that been resolved than Brown threw a tantrum over fines imposed by general manager Mike Mayock.
A contrite Brown apologized to his teammates and coach Jon Gruden said he would play in Monday night’s opener. Less than 24 hours later, Brown was gone, cut after taking to Instagram and demanding the Raiders release him.
A few hours later, Brown announced he would sign with the Patriots.
“It helps everybody when you have great players that are sharing the burden of a tough football season,” Brady said Sunday night. “We’re all excited to have him.”
That was then. Now, it’s a dumpster fire threatening to suck up all of the oxygen in the NFL for the foreseeable future. Remember the Patriots’ complete rout of the Steelers? The “Can you top this?” last minute of the Texans-Saints game Monday night? Yeah. I didn’t think so.
No doubt the NFL and, probably, the Patriots are wishing they could make this all go away. But Goodell can’t suspend Brown, not without some proof there is merit to the lawsuit. If the Patriots cut Brown, they’d be out the $9 million they gave him as a signing bonus.
No league commands attention like the NFL. But it has met its match, and then some, with Antonio Brown.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.