In the fast-paced world of Antonio Brown developments, a day can feel like a lifetime. So, as the hours ticked off and afternoon turned into evening on Wednesday, the day after Brown was accused of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment by his former trainer in a federal lawsuit, a question hung in the air:
Where was the NFL?
The New England Patriots, Brown’s latest team, said in a statement that the NFL was investigating, but there has been not one peep from the most powerful league in the country.
For exactly five years and three days – the length of time that has elapsed from the moment we first saw the video of Ray Rice’s punch of his then-fiancee Janay Palmer to right now – the NFL has spent a lot of time telling us how much it cares about women.
There have been some hits and misses on that topic for sure, but the breaking news about the lawsuit Tuesday night presented the league with an opportunity that could best be described as a lay-up.
No one yet knows who is telling the truth, Brown or Britney Taylor, who chose to make her name public as she presented the allegations, but if we’ve learned anything in the #MeToo era, it’s that we should listen to women.
That doesn’t mean kicking Brown out of the league, or even suspending him. Not yet, and perhaps not ever.
What it means is taking the lawsuit seriously enough to stash Brown away somewhere for the time being while Taylor’s allegations are investigated.
That somewhere? The commissioner’s exempt list, the place where the NFL’s bad boys go to get paid and get out of the way.
The NFL is not a court of law. It’s a sports league that understandably cares very much about optics. It also can control what it puts on the field for public consumption.
This coming Sunday, Brown’s Patriots will play the Dolphins in Miami. Let us all picture the scene if Brown is on the field. Let’s envision the players and teams around the league who will be given short-shrift if Brown, the man newly accused of sexual assault, is catching Tom Brady’s passes, perhaps scoring touchdowns and generally becoming the face of the league.
This wouldn’t be the dream start to the league’s much-ballyhooed 100th season that the NFL has anticipated. It would be a nightmare.
But it’s so easily avoided. Over the years, the list of players who have landed on the commissioner’s exempt list include Michael Vick, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Kareem Hunt. Some have called it paid leave. For others, it’s more of a penalty box.
For now, it’s the perfect place for Brown, at least for the time being. He’s not guilty of anything right now (other than the past few weeks’ ridiculousness). But, with accusations pending, including graphic text messages that could corroborate one of Taylor’s allegations, he shouldn’t have the privilege of playing football this week, not in the NFL of 2019.
The league has increasingly become a mirror of American society, with the Rice story from 2014, the Donald Trump-Colin Kaepernick battle and a fan base that the league says is increasingly made up of women and girls, up to 45% now of the NFL’s overall total.
The NFL is just as much a part of U.S. culture as the #MeToo movement. They co-exist in 21st century America, and that’s as it should be.
So, before too much time goes by, the NFL needs to get Brown off the field for as long as necessary. This one is simple. It has the commissioner’s exempt list written all over it.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Antonio Brown: NFL must put Patriots receiver on exempt list
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