A Different Judge and Jury



We all have some idea how our legal system works when it comes to proving one’s guilt or

innocence. Far be it from me to analyze the judicial process our country has in place to

interpret the law, but having spent my entire adult life in and around NFL locker rooms, I do

know how they operate when it comes to passing judgement.

 

This week, the NFL suspended Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown and two

teammates for three weeks after they misrepresented their COVID-19 vaccination status.

For those who have not heard, a former personal chef, whom Brown owed money too,

called him on the carpet for using a fake vaccine card in order to sidestep his team’s

guidelines and protocols that were instituted by the NFL and the NFL Players Association.


In the wake of the pandemic, the players’ union agreed upon protocols that mandated how

team members would navigate daily in and around their buildings due to COVID-19. Brown

and two of his teammates used falsified vaccine cards, blatantly misrepresenting they had

been fully vaccinated and as the NFL’s investigation showed, spit into the wind of everyone

involved collective faces.


The three-week suspension, rumored to be much more before a behind the scenes

settlement, included a non-appeal clause, agreed upon between the accused and

management. In effect, this was the legal equivalent of a “plea bargain”. Wither they broke

the law or not is up to someone else to decide.


My concern, if I am the Bucs, goes much further than Brown just missing three weeks. 

Let me first say, I’m not surprised by Brown’s actions or the level of his antics. Last year,

Tampa Bay took a risk not many other organizations were willing to take, bringing the

troubled Brown on board just prior to their run to the Super Bowl. His baggage was both

heavy and VERY public. 


At the time they acquired Brown, I am sure they felt the eventual reward clearly outweighed

the risk. It played out that way with the Buccaneers earning their second Super Bowl title in

franchise history last season. 


Having said that, the public opinion of Brown is consistent and loud. and how they have

come to their conclusion is transparent. However, the jury made up of Bucs ownership,

General Manager Jason Licht and Head Coach Bruce Arians is another matter and their

decision making factors will be much less transparent. That group now must be concerned

with their own locker room and the relationships NOW between Brown and his teammates.


Brown’s biggest trump card to date in playing this “reputation game” has been that he has

had the support of QB Tom Brady. Remember, weeks before the Bucs brought Brown in,

Arians said the team would have “no interest” in signing the outlandish and borderline

unstable wide receiver who had been run out of Pittsburgh, Oakland and New England.

Brown really had no viable options and it wasn’t because he couldn’t help a team on the

field. It was all about the accumulation of baggage relating to his character and the

selfishness that caused such distraction. 

 

Now it has been determined by the NFL that Brown has flat out lied and deceived his

teammates, coaches and others within the Bucs organization by blatantly playing the fake

vaccine card. As a teammate, that would bother me. My guess is his respect within the

locker room has taken a sizeable hit. The three-game suspension will come and go but

these relationships and the value Brown brings to a much different Bucs team a year

removed from their Super Bowl victory are now being evaluated by management. 

 

Brown has only played in five games in 2021 although his numbers and production have

been solid. To this point, the Bucs have played more games without him than with him. 

His relationship with his teammates will be what determines his future in Tampa. While they

now appear to be a shoo-in to win their division, the Buccaneers are still in a battle for NFC

supremacy and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. 


Brown’s fate will not be determined by pressure from the outside world, whether political or

media driven. Fair or not, NFL teams get to set their own rules (within limits) and apply their

own sentencing. My guess is his actions have caused many eye roles within the Bucs

building. Some players may say nothing, but a faction of guys have no doubt spoken to

Brady or have trekked upstairs to voice their displeasure with management. 


This is a team that brought back all of its starters from a year ago AND Brown was the last

to re-sign. That alone tells me there was some trepidation by management before they

agreed to commit to the mercurial player for another year. Word is, he was already on

“double secret probation”. At a minimum, Brown’s recent suspension is a strike against the

team’s fabric. There is now more doubt than the last time the question was asked last year

about “is he worth it?”

 

The 2021 Bucs have faced some adversity along the way in their bid to repeat as Super

Bowl champs but they have found a way to win without Brown. A new found running game

and the emergence and ever-expanding role of RB Leonard Fournette has given them more

options to win games than ever before. 


The Bucs situation with Brown is much different than the Green Bay Packers and QB Aaron

Rodgers. Rodgers deceived those outside the Packers bubble but not his teammates and

staff. My experience has been that teammates usually have each other’s back but in

Brown’s case, I am not sure he has ever had anyone’s back but his own.

 

The Buccaneers have three weeks to gauge locker room sentiment and make a decision.

There have been cries from the media, both real and social, who at times anoint themselves

as judge and jury, to release Brown immediately. Their opinions will not count for nearly as

much as the trust that Brown has lost in his own locker room over the last year and a half.

The recent suspension has already cost Brown plenty in the pocket book. Let’s see if his

recent actions cost him anything else.

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