Antonio Brown was nothing, a no one. Drafted in the sixth round out of Central Michigan, the league as a whole had decided Antonio Brown did not have what it took to make it in the NFL. He was too short, played at a small school where he’d never faced the “real deal” guys.
Brown would write his own story, setting numerous NFL records, routinely making All-Pro teams and began making a case for himself as the greatest receiver since Jerry Rice. He hugged field goal posts after punt return touchdowns, performed backflips, burnt defenses with his speed. Brown had it all: a second contract and all the accolades.
Vontaze Burfict took his trademark headhunting prowess and directed it at Antonio Brown. Brown would suffer a concussion and miss the following week’s divisional round bout with the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.
From that point on, Antonio Brown began to unravel but not in the areas the public and organization deemed important. Brown was still a maestro on the football field. He’d enter the NFL’s Top 100 for receptions and receiving yards the following year, climb the ranks of the Steelers’ all-time receiving list but the Antonio Brown that was fun and lovable, who entertained fans with touchdown celebrations, began to fade. That postseason he would record a Facebook live stream of a postseason victory speech in the Steelers’ locker room, dissuading team captains and head coach Mike Tomlin, who rightly eviscerated Brown.
The Steelers, unaware of the changed star, signed him to a five-year contract extension, making him the highest-paid receiver in football. There was a speeding ticket on McKnight Road, absences at practice but these were overlooked. This was just a star enjoying his spotlight.
Sideline antics would follow, spouts would be had and eventually, over time, the Steelers had decided they had enough. Brown would be shipped to Oakland.
This offseason the world watched as Antonio Brown capsized in the Bay, arriving late to his first press conference, true to form. He would suffer frostbite on his feet during a cryotherapy session, threaten retirement over a helmet disagreement, miss practices, criticize the Raiders for penalizing him for missing those practices, call his general manager “a cracker” and request his release from a contract after the Oakland Raiders nixed his guaranteed $30 million.
This behavior was not normal, never has been normal but the public ate it up, salivating at what the next development could be. As Antonio Brown’s mental sanity continued its tour down the well, no one seemed to raise an eye. People were only concerned with who Antonio Brown would be catching footballs for next.
Next? Surely a team wouldn’t sign someone so over the radar, someone who had so clearly lost his faculties?
The New England Patriots signed him within 24 hours.
It should not have come as a surprise. Tyreek Hill can break his three-year-old son’s arm and get a $54 million contract the same year. It’s the same reason why Richie Incognito can burst into a funeral home asking for his father’s head to be removed for research purposes and make an NFL roster within a year.
The people don’t care.
Athletes’ well-being or criminal history is not a concern to the NFL or to its fans. The only matter to debate is how many touchdowns they can score or stop.
Antonio Brown did not become a malignance by himself. He became one because he was enabled. Social media adored him, people in positions of power refused to hold him accountable. He was told he was bigger than everything. His #CallGod has become a reference to himself.
It’s no wonder. We just enabled him again.
The Antonio Brown saga will play out like an episode of the Running Man. We will watch as our contestant hurdles over obstacles and drives ratings and we will continue to do so until our player falls and gets brought by the chainsaw. Rather than bemoan the horror at the end of the road, we’ll just move to the next candidate whilst questioning how it all went wrong, ignorant of our contributions to the bloody mess.
But God forbid if Antonio Brown ever took a knee.