FOXBORO – Having Antonio Brown on your roster means anything’s possible.
So who’s surprised that Bill Belichick’s Wednesday press conference ended with an, “I know you are but what am I?” duel between the greatest head coach in NFL history and a news reporter from CNN named Jason Carroll?
Brown is a Patriot for one simple reason. He should help the Patriots win.
Ironic that Brown put his new boss – as he’s put all of his other NFL employers – in a no-win situation before he’d even hit the practice field for the first time as a New England Patriot.
“Can you tell us at all what Antonio Brown has said to you?” Carroll asked after Belichick made clear he was moving on from the discussion of the forever-embattled wideout the Patriots signed on Monday.
“Yeah, I mean, I’m done with that. OK? Anything else on Miami?”
“Done with it in what way, sir?” parried Carroll.
“Any other questions?”
“Can you explain to me what you mean ‘you’re done with it?’ I mean we’re just trying to find out if he said anything to you about his position and about the allegations,” Carroll pleaded.
“Yeah, I just answered that question,” Belichick insisted.
“Well, actually, you didn’t,” Carroll shot back.
“Actually, I did,” said Belichick.
Off he went.
Within the hour, Brown was in full uniform skipping on lush green grass. Wearing jersey No. 1.
There are myriad layers to this story but the jumping-off point is that the Patriots' newest player – who arrived with more red flags than a Moscow military parade circa 1980 – is the No. 1 news topic in America, accused of sexual violence against his former trainer.
It’s all “he said, she said” and Brown, his attorneys and his agent Drew Rosenhaus are going gloves off in discrediting Brown’s alleged victim, Britney Taylor.
The Patriots are giving a somber shoulder shrug.
The NFL is investigating Taylor’s charges. Who knows if he’ll be on the field Sunday in Miami.
There will be myriad opportunities over the next few days and weeks for people to use Brown, the Patriots and the NFL as a springboard to larger conversations. Sexual violence. Believing the accusations of women. Due process. Professional athletes being extorted. CTE. The willingness of sports fans to put a clothespin on their nose and clap their hands for a heel like Brown just because he wears the jersey of your favorite team.
The Patriots put themselves here.
Whether or not they knew Taylor’s accusation was about to go public – and I’ll get to that weirdness – they knew when they decided to bring Brown on board they were dealing with a tragically unpredictable person whose life is a maelstrom of chaos and attention-whoring.
And they paid him a lot of dough to bring all that with him so they could have a much-needed talent infusion at wide receiver.
At his press conference, Belichick certainly took a stab at being respectful of the seriousness of the allegations.
His smug dismissal of a question Tuesday about Brown’s potential for disruption was replaced by him addressing the first disruption by saying, “We're taking it very seriously all the way through the organization.”
The decision to import a player who – less than a week ago – was threatening his boss in Oakland with physical harm, has put the Patriots on a tightrope.
They can’t appear to be cavalier about allegations of sexual misconduct and violence toward women, especially given the Orchids of Asia embarrassment that owner Robert Kraft found himself in last February.
Neither can they give Brown’s new teammates the impression that any complaint – civil or criminal, substantiated or not – could result in them being benched, quarantined, cut or disgraced.
What did the Patriots know of this accusation and when did they know it? Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus said on ESPN Wednesday afternoon that he and Brown were “unfortunately anticipating this.”
Yet the Patriots were said to be unaware of the potential civil lawsuit.
So, the Patriots either didn’t ask Rosenhaus if there were any looming surprises with their new employee – a mind-numbing lack of due diligence for a team that once lamented being “duped” by Aaron Hernandez.
Or they did ask and Rosenhaus wasn’t forthcoming.
Or the people in the organization NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport spoke to weren’t looped in about the fact this could drop before Brown’s first practice.
Somebody’s lying. And despite Belichick stating, “When we know more, we'll say more,” that’s not true either. The Patriots will put out another statement then pull the covers up over their heads and wait for the world to go away.
It’s my understanding that if there was a criminal complaint against Brown, he wouldn’t be a Patriot right now. But there’s not. It’s a civil complaint that Brown is fighting and denying. Belichick is willing to live with the embarrassment of it otherwise Brown wouldn’t be on the practice field.
In a vacuum, that’s as it ought to be. Due process should be sacred. Every case – no matter how big a knucklehead the accused may be – deserves to be evaluated on its merits.
But we’ll see if the avalanche of negative publicity for the Patriots brand that Brown’s touched off threatens Belichick’s football fiefdom. Even if Brown is being extorted, as he alleges, if Belichick knew this was coming and ownership didn’t, that would be cause for a conversation, I would think.
When the Patriots hired Brown, the whole thing was set up to work like the line from Bob Seger’s, “Night Moves."
They’d use him, he’d use them and neither one cares. They were getting their share.
Now, the Patriots are getting more than their share. And we’re just two days in.
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