Two days ago, the biggest question surrounding Antonio Brown and the NFL was whether he gamed the system to get to the New England Patriots. Now, the question is whether he’ll ever take the field with them. A lawsuit filed in Florida accuses the star receiver of rape and sexual assault, putting the NFL on the hot spot again in dealing with player behavior in the #MeToo era:
Antonio Brown of the New England Patriots, the most prominent wide receiver in the N.F.L., has been accused of raping a woman who worked as his trainer, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Southern District of Florida.
The lawsuit says that Brown — in three separate incidents, two in June 2017 and another in May 2018 — sexually assaulted a woman named Britney Taylor, a gymnast whom he met while they were attending Central Michigan together and whom he later hired as a trainer.
The lawsuit was filed one day after Brown, 31, became a Patriot following a brief, turbulent tenure with the Oakland Raiders that ended when he requested his release last week. Late Tuesday night, the Patriots issued a statement saying that the N.F.L. planned to do its own investigation of the accusations against Brown.
No one at the Patriots knew this was coming, ESPN reported, and neither did the league. Now, neither know exactly how to handle it either:
“We are aware of the civil lawsuit that was filed earlier today against Antonio Brown, as well as the response by Antonio’s representatives,” the Patriots said in a statement on Tuesday night. “We take these allegations very seriously. Under no circumstances does this organization condone sexual violence or assault. The league has informed us that they will be investigating. We will have no further comment while that investigation takes place.”
The first alleged incident came in June 2017, with Taylor saying Brown exposed himself and kissed her without consent at one of his Pittsburgh-area homes. A month later, while at Brown’s home in his native Miami, Taylor alleges in the lawsuit, Brown masturbated near her without her knowledge and ejaculated on her back, then later bragged about it in a series of text messages. In May 2018, after a night out at a Miami-area club, Taylor says she went back to Brown’s home in Miami to use the bathroom and grab some food, and the receiver “forced her down onto a bed, pushed her face into the mattress, and forcibly raped her.”
Brown’s lawyer, Darren Heitner, said in a statement Tuesday night that the receiver and Taylor were involved in a “consensual personal relationship. Any sexual interaction with Mr. Brown was entirely consensual.”
In a tweet on Tuesday, Heitner said that Brown “will leave no stone unturned and will aggressively defend himself, including all of his rights in countersuits.”
The claim that the sexual contact was consensual might run into some documentary problems. When Brown apologized for the 2017 incidents and wanted to work with Taylor again, she had him sign an agreement to keep it professional:
A few weeks later, according to the complaint, another assault occurred at the wide receiver’s home in Miami. Taylor was watching a church service on her iPad, the complaint states, when Brown stood behind her, masturbated and ejaculated on her. The lawsuit attached a vulgar text message, purportedly from Brown, in which the sender of the text message makes reference to an act matching what Taylor described.
Taylor ceased communicating with Brown after this incident, according to the lawsuit, until he reached back out to her in 2018, apologized and requested they resume working together. Taylor agreed, according to the suit, after getting Brown to agree in writing to “stop flirting with her anymore.”
That doesn’t sound like Taylor was interested in a consensual relationship, at least not as of the time of the alleged rape. That doesn’t mean Taylor didn’t change her mind, but how many women would change their mind that quickly after requiring a man to sign a contract to not make the relationship sexual? On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be a record of police calls connected to these incidents. The first two might not have warranted a criminal complaint, but the third alleged incident would have. Of course, with Brown’s celebrity and their past history, Taylor may have felt that it wouldn’t have gone anywhere — but that documentation would have been helpful to her civil claims now.
All of these claims and counterclaims will have to get tested in court at some point. The question for the Patriots and the NFL is what to do with Brown now. After an off-season of weirdness and two team changes, the star receiver was supposed to start practicing with his new team this week and play in their game in Miami on Sunday. Brady won’t need Brown to beat the Dolphins, and may not need him at all until their November 3 game against the Ravens, assuming no other injuries to their receiver corps. With these allegations hanging over Brown’s head and the league’s controversial handling of previous domestic-violence incidents with players, the Pats can afford to err on the side of caution for a while and put him on the exempt list while the league investigates — fully paid, of course.
If they don’t, they’d better be prepared for the backlash. The league puts its players in pink every October to support women and breast-cancer research. Having Brown on the field in pink cleats might create a few uncomfortable questions. The league could take a stand for due process and innocence until proven guilty, but if they did, it’d be the first time — and people would wonder why Brown was their choice for it. These are the questions that Roger Goodell gets paid the big bucks to answer, so …