A Critical Analysis of the AB Saga: Why Has AB Been Such A Headache for the NFL?

As Antonio Brown scored his first touchdown as a Patriot last Sunday, it seemed that maybe, just maybe, the dust had settled and things were about to quiet down on the AB front. Then, as quickly as they grabbed him, the Patriots dropped Brown just before the third week of the regular season. As entertaining as it may be to thumb through the countless AB headlines, we must wonder what truly is going on behind the scenes.

Let’s recap the most prominent AB headlines since the end of the 2017 season:

  • AB took to Instagram to publically shame his girlfriend and mother of his children for not taking care of her children;
  • AB skipped the majority of OTAs because he noticed Ben Roethlisberger was not there;
  • AB slammed the media for questioning his motivations for playing stating, “[a]m I playing football to make a lot of money or am I playing football to take care of my family?” AB asserts that he can no longer go out in public because of the media pressure;
  • AB showed up in a helicopter to training camp;
  • AB disappeared for a week during training camp and is filmed in a pool in Miami;
  • AB called Bouchette a “racist” and a “clown” after Bouchette tweets about AB limping at camp;
  • AB showed up four hours late to an event at Children’s Hospital, without an explanation;
  • AB made a joke in a GQ article about cheating on his girlfriend and mother of his children. He stated “it’s kind of hard to keep it in my pants;”
  • AB threatened to assault reporter Jesse Washington saying, “wait to I see you bro we gone see what your jaw like.” Then, after issuing an apology, AB went on a rant to media calling himself an “exceptionalism;”
  • AB is caught on camera hugging former Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley during a game against the Browns. After the 21-21 tie, AB bragged on the team’s Snapchat to Haley about reaching 10,000 career receiving yards;
  • AB yelled at offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and wide receivers coach Darryl Drake on the sideline during a game against the Chiefs;
  • AB took to twitter asserting, “trade me let’s find out” when the former Steelers public relations staffer Ryan Scarpino criticized him on Twitter;
  • AB failed to attend meetings and told the media he was “pissed off” because “we suck;”
  • AB is sued for trashing his apartment but claimed he had $80,000 in cash and a gun stolen;
  • AB is sued for tossing furniture from the 14th floor of his apartment building, nearly killing a 22- month- old child in the process;
  • AB is cited for driving over 100 miles per hour (more than 55 miles per hour over the posted speed limit) and tells the police he was late for a team meeting;
  • AB live-streamed a locker room celebration on Facebook – in violation of league policy;
  • AB repeatedly posted his personal accolades after a few key losses for the Steelers;
  • AB got into an argument with Ben Roethlisberger at practice and threw a football at him before leaving practice;
  • AB skipped the team’s walk through before a crucial game. When he showed up before the game, he was told that he wasn’t playing, and he walked out at halftime;
  • AB took to social media yet again to thank Steelers fans and proclaimed it was time to move on;
  • AB says “I don’t even have to play football if I don’t want” in an interview with ESPN, making it clear that he would never suit up for the Steelers again;
  • AB is traded to the Oakland Raiders for a third-round pick and a fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft;
  • AB arrived at the Raiders training camp in a hot air balloon;
  • AB had a severe frostbite injury to his feet from not wearing proper footwear during a cryotherapy session and cannot practice with the Raiders;
  • AB began practicing with the Raiders but left practice early once he is notified that he can no longer wear his helmet of choice, as the helmet is over 10 years old and is no longer certified safe by the league;
  • AB left practice prematurely once again when the leagued ruled against his petition to keep his helmet;
  • AB attempted to paint over his 10-year old helmet (he didn’t fool anyone);
  • AB threatened to retire from football if he was not allowed to wear his 10 year old helmet;
  • AB publically posted a letter from Mayock regarding fines for training camp absences;
  • AB confronted Mayock in the locker room regarding the fines and teammates had to pull AB away before the confrontation escalated;
  • AB emotionally apologized to his teammates for his confrontation with Mayock;
  • AB publically (and illegally) posted his private phone conversation with Gruden about the Mayock confrontation;
  • AB asked the Raiders to release him on a public Instagram post;
  • AB is released by the Raiders;
  • AB is signed by the Patriots;
  • AB is accused of seeking advice from social media influencers to help him accelerate his release from the Raiders;
  • AB is accused in a civil lawsuit for raping his former trainer on multiple occasions;
  • AB scored a touchdown in his first game with the Patriots;
  • AB is released by the Patriots, amid the pending sexual harassment allegations; and
  • AB took to Twitter to announce that he will not be playing for the NFL; and
  • AB took to Twitter to rant about Kraft stating, “different strokes different folks clearly;” and
  • AB took to Twitter to rant about previous allegations of sexual harassment by Ben Roethlisberger, stating, “4 games for Big Ben crazy world I’m done with it.”

After the (very public) rollercoaster AB has subjected the world to, it leaves many genuinely wondering what could cause this erratic behavior. Does Brown have a personality disorder? Are we seeing symptoms of CTE play out right in front of us?

Approximately one month ago (before the Raiders dropped AB, the Patriots picked him up, he was accused of rape, and he went on a Twitter rampage), people began wondering if AB’s bizarre behavior was a result of CTE. When asked to comment on Brown’s wild offseason this past year, Clay Travis stated:

“This is a really legitimate sign that Antonio Brown has been wearing the wrong helmet for too long. I don’t know what you do if you are Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock, but ‘Crazytown’ has come to your team and you’ve given him $33 million guaranteed. I mean this honestly, I think there has to be some fear that he’s gone off the reservation and might have CTE already. He’s taken a lot of hits over the years at wideout; is it possible he’s starting to manifest some of the signs of CTE at this point in his career? Is it crazy to me based on his behavior to think CTE might be involved in some way?”

In 2016, Brown was leveled with a hit to the head by Vontaze Burfict. Brown suffered a serious concussion. Since then, he has suffered other serious hits. As questioned by Travis, maybe Brown has been wearing the wrong helmet for far too long. Isn’t this the very reason the NFL is beginning to crack down on old, outdated, and ineffective equipment?

According to the Mayo Clinic, people with CTE can show signs of impulsive behavior, emotional instability, and aggression. Since his severe concussion in 2016, Brown has exhibited impulsive behavior, emotional instability, and aggression. In an article titled “Aaron Hernandez’s CTE: 5 Facts About This Brain Disease,” Dan Robitzski reminds us of five main facts about CTE. (1) CTE can only be diagnosed after death, during an autopsy. In Hernandez’s case, his autopsy showed an extremely severe case of CTE. At 27 years old, his brain looked like that of a 60 year old with CTE. (2) CTE is not the same as a concussion. Concussions are a reversible brain injury that happen after head trauma. CTE is a neurodegenerative disease, like Alzheimer’s dementia, that there is no established cause for. (3) CTE has a wide range of symptoms – from impulsive behavior to memory loss to depression, there is a wide variety of symptoms that can be present in an individual with CTE. (4) Further, there are different stages of CTE that exhibit different symptoms. (5) CTE is linked to more than just football. Boxers and cyclists visit the emergency room with head injuries at an astounding rate.

Given what we know (but mostly what we don’t know) about CTE, there is no way to say that AB is suffering from its effects. However, it is important that people begin recognizing what may be symptoms of CTE and continue pushing for the ability to diagnose before death. By pushing the possibility into the spotlight, AB’s erratic behavior may just do some good. Aaron Hernandez’s issues were swept under the rug and kept hidden. This is not okay. The NFL did exactly what they should have done when they told Brown that his helmet was far too old to be worn this season.

Beyond CTE, many wonder if Brown suffers from a personality disorder. Looking back, it seems that his behavior has been erratic for a long time. A personality disorder is a type of mental disorder in which you have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking, functioning and behaving. A person with a personality disorder has trouble perceiving and relating to situations and people. Many people that suffer with personality disorders do not recognize it because their way of thinking and behaving seems natural to them. People with such disorders tend to blame others for the challenges they face. If you were to quickly skim AB’s social media accounts you will find one recurring theme: blaming everyone else.

Whether it be CTE, a personality disorder, or just a desire to crash and burn, AB sure keeps the headlines coming. It is likely Brown will pursue some type of legal action against the Patriots or the NFL or both in the coming weeks. As the saga continues, it will also spotlight the connection between player disciplinary matters and mental health.

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