Last week, former NFL star wide receiver Antonio Brown was arrested for failure to pay child support, followed by reports that Brown owes $31,000 to one of the mothers of his children. That sounds like a ridiculous amount of money to you and me, but as someone who has practiced family law (including on behalf of pro athletes), I can tell you that there’s probably a good reason a judge ordered him to pay that amount. Things like private school, daycare, activities, sports clubs, lessons and travel to and from wherever the pro athlete parent lives, all add up — and courts aren’t in the habit of giving wads of cash to one parent just because the other parent is wealthy. But no matter how the court arrived at the amount of Brown’s child support, he was compelled to pay it by court order. Brown made the entire internet aware of his feelings on his obligation to support his children by posting this gem on Twitter:
Keep in mind that Brown had plenty of cash to use on the Albany Empire, the Arena League Football team he owned (?) earlier in 2023 and, by one account, put nearly $2 million into. He also offered former Panthers QB Cam Newton $150,000 to play for the Empire via Twitter.
A history of alleged abuse
Brown has been cutting a swath of bad and sometimes (alleged) criminal behavior though the NFL for years before the fateful Bucs game that spelled the end of his career, enabled by star players like Tom Brady and the league itself. And despite the belief of much of the internet that Brown’s history of harming and degrading women was brought on by the infamous hit from Vontaze Burfict in 2016, that’s not quite how brain trauma, or violence against women, works. In a 2019 article for Sports Illustrated, Robert Klemko detailed Brown’s sordid history — including the police being called to Brown’s home in Pittsburgh for reports of domestic violence “three times in the last four years,” dating back to 2015. Well before the Burfict hit.
That same year, Brown’s stepfather, who admitted he hadn’t had contact with Brown since 2005, told USA Today that Brown was “very abusive to women,” and “feels like he can have whatever he wants,” adding, “A lot of things that Tony’s doing, nothing surprises me. I’m surprised that it took them this long to figure him out. Because he’s been this way since he’s been 12 years old.’’
Given all the crimes and bad deeds Brown has been accused of, it would be surprising that fans are still twisting themselves into pretzels trying to defend him, until you remember that despite all their claims of saying “No More” to domestic abuse, Brown has never been disciplined by the league for any of it.
Tom Brady: Believer of women (not)
Even though the NFL began their “No More” campaign against domestic abuse following the release of the video of Ray Rice knocking out his wife, Janay, in 2014, it doesn’t appear Brown was disciplined or even investigated for all those police visits to his home back in Pittsburgh. By 2019, Brown had been traded to the Raiders, then the Patriots. Thirteen days after arriving in New England, the team cut Brown when a former training partner accused him of sexual assault. Brady, reportedly, wanted Brown to stick around. It was owner Robert Kraft who insisted on parting ways with Brown.
Brown denied the allegations in a civil lawsuit, which claimed he sexually assaulted college friend Britney Taylor on three separate occasions in 2017 and 2018, and included some harrowing details of the alleged assaults. Brown denied the accusations and ultimately settled the suit in spring of 2021. And while a source with knowledge of the situation tells Deadspin that the league interviewed the alleged victim for more than eight hours, the NFL never followed up with her or made a determination on discipline in that case, which contained far more serious and violent allegations than the case Brown wound up being suspended for. In 2019, Brown was accused of sexual misconduct by another woman. He allegedly sent her threatening text messages.
While the civil suit against Brown was pending in federal court, Brady successfully urged the Bucs to bring Brown onboard in Tampa Bay.
“The reality is this is what Tom Brady wanted – for any new team he signed with,” NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport said at the time. Brady was rarely, if ever, asked if he had given any thought to the women accusing Brown. And Bruce Arians, who was lauded far and wide for having two women coaches on his staff, got a complete pass, despite saying Brown would no longer be with the Bucs if the allegations against him were proven true in court. Did Arians know that most civil cases settle without an admission of guilt or even making it to trial? Only he knows. For their part, Bucs fans didn’t seem to care about Brown’s history, either.
Meanwhile, the police in Hollywood, Fla., where Brown lived, had had enough. According to the Miami Herald, police said Brown’s increasing number of domestic incidents that need police intervention has caused “an irreparable rift between the Police Department…and Mr. Brown.” On one occasion, Brown taunted the mother of three of his children with a bag of gummy dicks, which he eventually threw at her (in front of the police), and continued to taunt and verbally abuse the woman in front of their children, including telling the cops to “take that fish-looking bitch to jail,” and “Slam her ass! Slam her!”
Twitter, of course, found this hilarious.
Was Brown arrested for disorderly conduct? Attempted assault? Harassment? No, the Hollywood police simply discontinued allowing Brown to fund their youth softball league.
And while the incident was highly publicized, there was never any mention of the league disciplining Brown over it.
In July of 2020, Brown was finally suspended by the NFL, for “multiple violations of the NFL’s personal conduct policy.” According to the NFL, that suspension was based on an investigation into the second allegation of sexual misconduct against Brown and an arrest connected to the attack of the driver of a moving company truck. In 2021, Brown was again suspended, this time for three games for supplying the league with a fake vaccination card. By mid-January of 2022, Brown was out of the league entirely, after refusing to go into a Bucs game, ripping off his jersey, and ranting up and down the sidelines.
The allegations against Brown continue
In October of 2022, Brown allegedly exposed himself to a woman in a Dubai hotel swimming pool. In December of 2022, police attempted to serve Brown with an arrest warrant on domestic violence charges. In January of 2023, Brown’s SnapChat account was suspended after he posted a pic of him receiving oral sex from the mother of his children.
It’s easy to look at Brown and say “he probably has CTE and that’s why he acts this way.” Brown himself has attributed his behavior to struggling with CTE. And while I’m not going to speculate on who does and doesn’t have CTE (which is currently only diagnosed via autopsy) — and while we can all agree that head trauma is a real and present danger to NFL players and affects their demeanor — it seems telling that Brown’s bad behavior only seems to manifest when he’s around women and those with less power than him. After all, we’ve never heard reports of him exposing himself to Brady, or the police being called to a domestic dispute between Brown and Arians. As far as we know, no teammates’ wives or girlfriends have accused Brown of sexual assault or misconduct. He didn’t toss a bag of gummy dicks at Bill Belichick. He was presumably able to live at Brady’s home without incident.
But it’s far easier for fans to look at Brown, shake their heads and talk about how “sad” it is to see him like this. It IS sad. For everyone involved. But it’s especially sad for the people who Brown has (allegedly) hurt, including his own children, who are the real victims when a parent refuses to pay child support. And it’s easier not to think about who has enabled this kind of behavior by not holding Brown responsible for his actions in any meaningful way — the NFL and their fans.
Deadspin corresponded briefly with an NFL spokesperson about the sexual assault allegations against Brown, but the league did not respond to our question about if or why Brown was ever disciplined for the sexual assault allegations.