The saga of former Oakland Raiders receiver Antonio Brown was quite the clown show. However, the rape and sexual misconduct allegations levied against Brown must transform our view.
It’s easy to make fun of the Oakland Raiders. The material tends to write itself.
Mark Davis’ haircut will surely get the brunt of the blame, but it probably dates back far further. When his father, Al Davis, stepped in front of the media with an overhead projector and set out to show how he had fired then-head coach Lane Kiffin with cause.
Even that may be omitting the true beginning, but the point remains the same, they have been a hilariously inept organization for many years.
Incompetence is easy to laugh at, especially in sports. Every Friday, SportsCenter, ESPN’s flagship show, ends their episode with a “Not Top 10” ranking the 10 most embarrassing plays of the week. We’ve all seen the butt fumble dozens of times and probably can’t wait to see it again.
Why do we love seeing players fail?
I think the answer is twofold. In a basic sense, it reminds us athletes are like us. Most fans have so much distance from the lives of professional athletes, the celebrity, lifestyle, and salary, in some ways watching games feels like a movie.
However, there’s no denying that sports social media culture searches for the next player to pounce on, embarrass, and ultimately claim superiority over.
Few organizations have ever been as consistently inept as the Raiders over the past 15 years. Their incompetence an easy target for every fan who’s ever claimed, “I could run the team better than that!”
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Oakland acquired a star for a couple of mid-round picks and then the disgruntled Steeler became an even bigger nightmare for the Raiders. Brown’s erratic behavior became the top story of sports talk for weeks before eventually leading to his release.
Brown then joined the organization with the least in common with Oakland. Signing with the New England Patriots on a one-year, $15 million (with $9 million guaranteed), Brown became the next example of the NFL’s elite outmaneuvering their counterparts.
Here’s the thing about incompetence and ineptitude though, it’s only funny when the stakes are low. Even as committed many of us are to our fandom, most of us understand that what happens on the field should always pale in comparison to life off it.
When Antonio Brown wasn’t coming into work because of frostbite, or an argument over a helmet, or a yelling match with his general manager, he was a clown. The chaos in Oakland was easy entertainment.
However, a lawsuit and a subsequent series of reports by SI.com’s Robert Klemko have changed the story.
Less than 48 hours after Brown signed with the Patriots, his former trainer-Britney Taylor-filed a civil lawsuit against him, which included accusations of sexual assault and rape.
Over the next week, Klemko compiled interviews that Sports Illustrated did “with more than two dozen people who have employed, worked for, coached, or played alongside Brown.”
His final story, released on Monday, included another accusation of sexual misconduct and a long list of concerning and erratic behavior from Brown.
In the most recent development, Klemko reported on Thursday that Brown had attempted to intimidate the woman in Klemko’s original story who accused Brown of misconduct.
He reportedly texted a group chat, which included the alleged victim and called for people to look into her. Brown’s texts even included images of her children.
It’s easy to see ineptitude on the field or in transactions. The stakes are so low and the results are right there. Off the field, it’s difficult. There are no winners and losers in these cases.
A victim does not “win” if their perpetrator is punished. A rapist does not “lose” if they face consequences for their actions. Justice is necessary even if it is often unsatisfying.
Do not be mistaken, Brown’s antics aren’t funny anymore. They fit a pattern of erratic behavior common among sexual predators.
We were entertained because Brown was a clown, but the reports released over the past 10 days have revealed a more sinister character, the Joker.
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Yet, amidst the reports, Antonio Brown somehow managed to play in a game with the Patriots before his release on Friday. The NFL once again proves its incompetence and ineptitude on issues of violence against women. The Patriots are right there alongside the league.
Some fans will use Brown’s presence as another reason to hate the Patriots. Bill Belichick’s “evil genius” persona and the Patriots status as “The Empire” of the modern NFL makes it easy to fit Brown in.
But, this isn’t spying on other team’s practices, or deflating footballs, this is sexual misconduct.
This is rape.
Sports teaches us to laugh at incompetence. Sports teaches us that winning solves all.
Through two weeks of the NFL season, the New England Patriots are undefeated, have scored the second-most points, allowed the fewest points, and have the best point differential in the league.
Sports can be wrong.
They were employing an accused rapist up until recently and allowed him to suit up for a game despite these allegations.
It wouldn’t have mattered if the Patriots went undefeated this season. If they had Antonio Brown on the roster and he did not exonerate himself of these charges, they would have been the most incompetent organization in football.
At least in what should matter the most.