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How Antonio Brown hijacked the NFL’s 100th anniversary ... and what it reveals about the league

The NFL must enact a rule that will allow it to punish players who don’t act in good faith, who misbehave their way out of a contract and a team, as Antonio Brown has done to the Steelers and Raiders.

New England wide receiver Antonio Brown warms up before game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla.
AP

The NFL has big plans for its 100th anniversary season in 2019, but so far that isn’t working out too well.

The league had planned to celebrate the great players who have passed through the game, but all anyone is talking about is Antonio Brown, the poster child for the spoiled, pampered, enabled (fill in your own adjectives, sans expletives) athlete.

The league planned to spotlight the great coaches of the game and the league’s great moments, but it’s all about a player who threatened to punch out his general manager because the latter had the gall to demand that he show up and, you know, play football.

“Our goal is to make this the most meaningful and memorable season in league history,” said an NFL VP, Peter O’Reilly, about the NFL’s plans to celebrate the 100th anniversary.

It’s been memorable all right, but not for the right reasons. The season reminded us again how badly the league can be gamed and played by players, even the most childish of them. It’s a league that allows players to destroy teams with impunity and manipulate the system for their own selfish purposes.

The NFL deserves Brown. After he was awarded a contract extension by the Steelers for $70 million through the 2021 season, after he failed to show up for practice, after he filmed his coach’s postgame locker room speech for pay, after he was suspended by the Steelers, after he demanded to be released, after he signed a new $50 million contract extension with the Raiders, after he skipped practice and refused to wear a modern helmet, after he threatened his GM, after he was fined and suspended, after he posted a video of a private phone call from his coach, after all that — teams lined up to sign him.

The Patriots — who else? — signed him for $10 million guaranteed, plus $5 million in incentives. Brown immediately posted a video of himself celebrating his “freedom” — freedom from a contract that would have paid him $20 million more in guaranteed money.

For the Patriots, it’s a deal with the devil. You have to wonder what the so-called “Patriot Way” is when the team signs a player who failed to live up to his contract with not one but two teams that had generously awarded him rich contract extensions.

Within hours they learned he faces a civil suit for sexual assault.

And the NFL has done nothing to prevent these situations. The league must enact a rule that will allow it to punish players who don’t act in good faith, who misbehave their way out of a contract and a team. Le’Veon Bell did it last year in Pittsburgh. Brown did it to the Steelers and the Raiders. They’re following the lead of the NBA, which saw Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard misbehave their way out of teams and contracts. Guaranteed contracts facilitate this nonsense. They’re business as usual in the NBA and now they’re coming into vogue in the NFL.

Several observers believe Brown wasn’t acting in good faith, that everything he did was calculated to land with the Patriots.

“Antonio Brown during the week actually sought advice from social media consultants on how he could accelerate his release from the Raiders,” ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported.

Jerry Rice, the Hall of Fame receiver who was considered a mentor for Brown, told Radio 95.7 The Game, “We all got played. He contacted me, he told me he wanted to play ball here in the Bay Area. I bought into it because I can only take a man at his word, but I think (signing with New England) was already planned.”

Says former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, “I’m not pulling for (Brown). I can promise you that,” he told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I cannot emphasize how I cannot stand and have a disdain totally for players like that. I don’t want any part of them. I wouldn’t like them. They would hate me if they were on our team. They would hate me because I wouldn’t throw to him.

”I will not put up with that kind of behavior. You don’t win with it. Why haven’t (the Steelers) won more Super Bowls? There is talent, (but) it’s just guys like him. Let him go and his brand and whatever it is he’s doing.”

Don’t you hope for the day when Brown — the player who once said he wants to be referred to as “Mister Big Chest” — starts complaining about catches with the Patriots and whining when the team is not all about him. It was galling for anyone with a sense of fairness to watch Brown haul in a touchdown pass in his first game with the Patriots Sunday. It was a complete slap in the face to the league and to the Raiders and Steelers, who had done everything right in dealing with Brown. All they ever wanted was for him to deliver on his contract and play the game.