The Buccaneers narrowly escaped the New York Jets with a last-second victory during the early Sunday window. Down 24-10 late in the third quarter, it appeared the Jets were going to pull off the shock of the week. Little did we know, things were about to get very bizarre. Antonio Brown rocked the NFL world when he was caught on the sideline taking off his uniform, tossing it into the stands, and jogging off the field as he waved to the fans. His teammate Mike Evans was seen trying to console AB, but his efforts were futile. AB ignored him and proceeded to undress and leave the field in a tasteless spectacle.

Reports quickly surfaced that Antonio Brown refused to enter the game after being asked “multiple times” by Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians. After the game, Arians briefly discussed the issue saying “AB is no longer a Buc” and “he has never seen anything like it.” He was quick to change the subject saying, “That’s the end of the story. Let’s talk about the guys that went out there and won the game.” Tom Brady took to the podium and briefly discussed the issue as well.

If anyone had the right to be furious at Antonio Brown, it’s Tom Brady. Not only was Brady the only reason AB was in Tampa, but there’s also a good argument to be made that he’s the only reason AB was in the league. For Antonio Brown to up and leave the team when they could’ve used his services is a slap in the face to not only his teammates but Brady himself. Yet, he was sympathetic and took the high ground as a true leader does. Something that many on social media aren’t capable of doing.

Early Monday morning, more reports came out that AB had told staff he was “too hurt” to play, but was asked to go back in anyways. Given Antonio Brown’s history, however, it’s difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt. If these reports came out about any other player, the public would likely side with the player. And depending on who the head coach of the team is, it would add even more validity to the reports. But since it’s AB, not many want to trust him.

This does beg the question, through all of Antonio Brown’s antics, does he deserve our sympathy? Or does he deserve our criticism? To answer this question, let’s take a look at AB’s transgressions over the last four years.

AB’s Past Transgressions

Antonio Brown’s downfall almost feels like a movie. After a solid 2018 season with the Steelers, Antonio Brown was reportedly frustrated with his teammates after voting JuJu Smith-Schuster the MVP of the team. An honor that he obviously thought he deserved. He took to social media to slander Smith-Shuster, and ultimately lost the respect of fans and players across the league. Since then, everything seems to have gone downhill for the fading superstar.

The 2019 off-season was one for the ages. On March 9th, the Raiders traded for Antonio Brown despite public perception. AB repaid the Raiders second chance by breaking league rules revolving around his helmet, missing team meetings and practices, and referring to the Raiders general manager as a “cracker.” In less than six months with the Raiders, AB had been nothing other than a distraction. AB burned the bridge before it was built and was released on September 9th.

New England attempted to give Antonio Brown a third chance after signing him to a one-year deal on September 7th. The same day that the Raiders released him. However, due to his legal troubles stemming from sexual misconduct, the Patriots released him after just one game. Many viewed his release from the Patriots as the final nail in his coffin. If Antonio Brown couldn’t survive in New England or (at the time) Oakland, where could he go?

Eventually, thanks to Tom Brady, in October of 2020, AB got a fourth chance with the Buccaneers. Even after Bruce Arians had said the team didn’t need him, Arians made an exception because of Brady. However, from Arian’s point of view, AB would be on a zero-tolerance policy. Antonio Brown appeared in eight regular-season games, caught a touchdown in the Bucs Super Bowl win, and surprisingly kept his nose clean. He re-upped with the Bucs on a one-year deal in the off-season, but little did we know, AB was on his way to ruining his fourth (and maybe final) chance.

The 2021 Season

Antonio Brown’s 2021 season had started off with a blast. In week one, AB caught 5 passes for 121 and a touchdown in a thriller against the Dallas Cowboys. It appeared that the old Antonio Brown was back and better than ever. However, on December 2nd, AB was suspended for three games after misrepresenting his COVID vaccination status. In other words, he committed a felony by submitting a fake vaccination card. Many thought that Bruce Arians would elect to cut AB, but alas, he chose not to.

Antonio Brown returned to action in week 16 against the Carolina Panthers and picked up where he had left off. He caught 10 passes for 101 yards en route to a blowout victory. With Chris Godwin out for the year with an ACL tear, the Buccaneers desperately needed AB to be ready to play a pivotal role. Week 17 against the Jets rolled around, and well, you know the story.

Antonio Brown hopped on Twitter after leaving the game and posted a picture of himself with the caption, “Super Gremlin.” It’s the title of a song by rap artist Kodak Black that focuses on betrayal. Possibly hinting that he feels betrayed by the Buccaneers organization. Nonetheless, AB didn’t appear to be sorry for what had taken place, and once again, found a way to shift the blame away from himself.  Once again showing a complete lack of self-awareness.

It would be one thing if AB was only causing problems within his teams, but a large portion of his issues stem from off-the-field issues.

AB’s Off-The-Field Drama

2018

In 2018, Antonio Brown was facing a multitude of legal issues. Not only was he being sued for throwing furniture out the window of his 14th-floor apartment, almost hitting a child, but he received a fine for speeding. These issues compounded with AB’s on-the-field drama caused a lot of tension in the Steelers organization.

2019

On September 10th, AB was accused of sexual assault by his former trainer, Britney Taylor. Claiming he exposed himself (among other things), and assaulted her on three separate occasions. A second woman came out on September 16th and accused AB of sexual misconduct. He was also being sued by a Pittsburgh-based doctor named Victor Prisk for $11,500 in unpaid legal fees. It seemed as though everywhere Antonio Brown went, trouble followed.

2020

In 2020, things weren’t getting any better for Antonio Brown. Not only were the police called on AB for several domestic violence-related incidents, but he reportedly attacked a moving truck driver at his home. Antonio Brown was charged with felony burglary of a vehicle, misdemeanor battery, and misdemeanor criminal mischief. He pleaded no contest, was sentenced to two years probation, 100 hours community service, 13 weeks of anger management counseling, and a psychological evaluation.

Antonio Brown’s rap sheet off the field is as long, if not longer, than his one on the field. As soon as one issue goes away, another one comes up. So, does he deserve sympathy? Or does he deserve criticism?

Why Antonio Brown Deserves Sympathy

It should be clear to anyone with common sense that something is wrong with Antonio Brown. ESPN’s Ryan Clark, a former teammate of AB, has discussed AB’s early years in Pittsburgh and said he’s always been about him. Knowing AB’s history, it’s clear that Ryan Clark’s not lying. But a big ego alone doesn’t explain the rap sheet that Antonio Brown is building up. His on and off-the-field behavior screams that he’s completely out of touch with reality.

Many on Twitter joke about the possibility of Antonio Brown having CTE. CTE is a degenerative brain disease that’s played a part in the deaths of numerous NFL players. It alters the mood and emotions of the individual and seems to typically make them more violent. Unfortunately, the only way to know if someone has CTE is by examining their post-mortem brain. Sports fans point to Vontaze Burfict’s headshot on Antonio Brown in the 2015 playoffs as what started his downfall.

I, for one, don’t see any reason to joke about something as serious as CTE. There’s a real possibility that Antonio Brown and any players who have suffered concussions have a certain level of brain damage. Unfortunately, the people who surround Antonio Brown are nothing but yes men who refuse to check his behavior. He was on track to be one of the best receivers to ever play the game, but in just four years, has flipped his career upside down. So much so, that the NFL’s Hall of Fame committee may elect to not give AB a bust in Canton due to his on and off-the-field behavior.

It’s easy to call AB names and claim he’s a bad guy, but rather than ridicule him, we should all hope he gets help for whatever is ailing him. With that being said, let’s look at why he deserves criticism.

Why Antonio Brown Deserves Criticism

Since his time in Pittsburgh, Antonio Brown’s self-absorbed attitude has been the cause of his undoing. From pouting on the sidelines when he doesn’t get enough targets, to recording himself in his team’s locker room, to getting upset over not being voted his team’s MVP, AB clearly only cares about himself. Throughout the NFL’s history, football fans and analysts have used the term “diva” to describe wide receivers. Antonio Brown is by far the very definition of a diva wide receiver.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is one of the friendliest players in the NFL, and AB repeatedly attacked him on social media for nothing. He insulted and threatened the GM of the Raiders, apologized to the team, claimed he was happy to be a Raider, and a day later demanded his release. Every time the media tries to get an answer from Antonio Brown regarding his behavior, he deflects and claims they’re just trying to start drama. Just days before this most recent incident, AB was asked about his fake vaccination card, and he dismissed the question as more “drama.”

If anything is “drama”, it’s Antonio Brown. He’s the living embodiment of “drama.” Everywhere he goes, drama indefinitely follows him. Even in his dream scenario of playing with Tom Brady, drama reared its ugly head. If it’s true that he was too hurt to play and that Bruce Arians (after asking him to get in the game multiple times) told him to get out, he could’ve just walked to the locker room quietly. Instead, he turned the whole thing into a circus.

I think it’s fair for someone to not like Antonio Brown, and I think it’s fair to criticize him for everything he’s done and continues to do. For all we know, AB’s brain is completely fine, and this is just who he is. A narcissistic self-absorbed alpha-male who completely threw away his second, third, and fourth chance.

In The End…

I personally don’t want to see Antonio Brown back in the NFL. I don’t believe that someone who’s squandered the opportunities he had should receive more and more chances. However, I do want to see Antonio Brown get help. I want to see him take true accountability for his actions rather than pass them off. I desperately want the people in his life to check his behavior and stop enabling him.

Over the past four years, Antonio Brown has become one of the most hated and laughed at players in the NFL. Before AB’s downfall, he was regarded as one of the best and most fun to watch. While I believe he’s earned every bit of criticism he’s gotten, I also think that he needs some form of guidance. At the end of the day, AB needs to be the one to make that decision, and I just hope that the right voice comes along to push him in that direction.

Follow me on Twitter @KENDRlCKS and check out more NFL-related articles by the Belly Up Sports team.

About Author

Kendrick Lindsay

Growing up in a single-parent household came with its perks and downsides. Perk, I became very close to my mother. The downside, she wasn't a sports watcher. It wasn't until I was 15 years old that I was introduced to the world of sports/sports media. That's when I truly fell in love with it all. And it wasn't the X's and O's that won me over, it was the deep-rooted stories of the business, the athletes, and the ever so changing nature of sports that intrigued me. As a recent college graduate and Communications major, I hope to put my imprint on the sports media world.

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