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A. Brown's sideline meltdown raises mental health concerns for some

The New England Patriots cut Antonio Brown after 11 days with the team. The wide receiver is accused of sexual assault and his future in the NFL is in doubt.
The New England Patriots cut Antonio Brown after 11 days with the team. The wide receiver is accused of sexual assault and his future in the NFL is in doubt.

Seventy years ago, a talented young outfielder named Jimmy Piersall nearly saw a budding baseball career collapse under the weight of mental health issues so severe that he had to be hospitalized and then medicated with what we now know was bipolar disorder. Piersall’s story came to mind in the last week as the sports world came face to face with the spectacle of former Tampa Bay Buccaneer wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Brown and the Tampa coaches traded recriminations over the circumstances and causes of the receiver’s shirtless meltdown in New York. But, by week’s end, the two sides agreed that the Bucs and Brown needed to part.

And so they did, with the possibility of investigations and grievances to follow.

Almost immediately, a chorus rang out in support of Brown, contending that his sideline actions were a cry for help, not for scorn or punishment.

Brown has been in the NFL since 2010 with three teams and nearly a fourth. He has played in only 16 games over the last three seasons, but not necessarily because of injury. He wore out his welcome with the Steelers, his initial team, after nine seasons. In 2019, Pittsburgh managed a trade with the Raiders, but he never played a down there because of disputes over which helmet he would wear as well as over fines over his conduct. Brown was released by Oakland and immediately picked up by New England. He played just one game with the Patriots before being released following allegations of sexual assault and rape.

Those things alone might have been enough to end Brown’s career, except he had curried the favor of quarterback Tom Brady, who had left New England for Tampa.

Brady lobbied for Brown and the receiver largely fell in line, as the Bucs won a Super Bowl.

Flash forward to this season. Tampa team officials made a big deal over the notion that all of their front office personnel, coaches and players were fully vaccinated and in accordance with the NFL’s strong preference that everyone get the shot.

Brown initially was thought to be in compliance, until it was revealed that he had produced a fake vaccination card. He drew a three-game suspension for the falsehood, but was welcomed back into the fold when the penalty was over.

That leads us to last week. Brown and his camp contend that he suffered an ankle injury in October that lingered and kept him from performing at his best.

Tampa coach Bruce Arians reportedly asked Brown to play last Sunday. Brown refused and was told to sit out, apparently precipitating the shirtless romp. The team released Brown Thursday.

There’s no question that Brown’s physical gifts, which are considerable, have led Bruce Arians and others to ignore Brown’s conduct in favor of his on-field contributions. They all bear some cumulative responsibility for Sunday.

And if Antonio Brown, like Jimmy Piersall before him, suffers from demons beyond his control, then he should get help.

But that only comes when Antonio Brown, like Jimmy Piersall before him, seeks it. The time for coddling and sympathy are long over.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Email: [email protected]

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.