Is free agent wide receiver Antonio Brown building a case for collusion against the NFL and its teams?

This possibility emerged on Thursday when the 31-year-old four-time All-Pro tweeted an obscenity-laden tweet directed at the NFL, whom he accuses of racism:

Brown’s tweet followed a report by ESPN’s Josina Anderson that Brown will meet in person with NFL investigators next Thursday. The timing of Brown’s incendiary tweet seemed illogical: he is about to meet with a league that could effectively end his professional football career. Of all times to attack the NFL and accuse league officials of being racist, the worst time is probably right before a meeting with the league. That’s unless Brown has an ulterior motive (more on that below).

Brown: the All-Pro free agent wide receiver whom no team wants

Brown is not currently subject to any punishment by the league. He has been a free agent since the New England Patriots abruptly released him on Sept. 20.

The Patriots’ release followed a tumultuous and stunning series of events. First, a day after the Patriots signed Brown on Sept. 9, Britney Taylor, who previously trained Brown, sued him in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. In a complaint written and signed by her attorneys, Taylor alleged that Brown sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions in 2017 and 2018. A week later, NFL investigators met with Taylor but took no action against Brown.

Last month, Taylor voluntarily dismissed her complaint from federal court. Her attorneys then filed a very similar complaint, though with additional legal claims and reference to more alleged facts, in a Broward County (Florida) circuit court. The case has been assigned to Judge Michael Robinson. Unless Brown and Taylor reach a settlement out-of-court, the case will likely take months—and well past the conclusion of the 2019 NFL season—before a trial would occur.

Taylor’s accusations against Brown are chilling. Among other assertions, Taylor insists that In May 2018 Brown pushed her face onto a mattress in his Miami bedroom and violently raped her while she cried and screamed.

It’s worth noting that Taylor’s claims are not based on any known sworn testimony. Both of her complaints were authored and signed by her attorneys, not her. A plaintiff can elect to file a verified complaint, where the plaintiff swears, under oath and thus at risk of a perjury criminal charge, that the complaint contains truthful information. Taylor did not do so. There is also no known police investigation into her claims, at least none that produced statements to law enforcement. 

Those points do not mean that Taylor is lying or exaggerating, only that she has not (as far as known) been willing to make her claims while under oath.

Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated’s Robert Klemko uncovered allegations by other women against Brown. His reporting also found that Brown allegedly sent hostile and inflammatory texts to one of his accusers. While the Patriots kept Brown despite Taylor’s lawsuit, they clearly ran out of patience as the number of accusers rose. The Patriots released him merely 11 days after they had signed him.

While several teams, including the Seattle Seahawks, have reportedly explored the possibility of signing Brown, the former Pittsburgh Steelers star remains a free agent.

The NFL could punish Brown on multiple grounds

The collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA supplies commissioner Roger Goodell with considerable discretion in deciding whether and how to punish a player for off-field misconduct. This is relevant as to how the league will handle the Brown situation following next week’s meeting.

As a starting point, Goodell can elect to place a player on the exempt list, where the player continues to be paid but is ineligible for games. Placement on the exempt list is appropriate when a league investigation leads Goodell to conclude that a player “may have” engaged in a crime of violence.