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Antonio Brown, Legendary Receiver and Frostbite Victim, May Retire Over the NFL’s Helmet Policy

Everything in that headline is somehow true—the Oakland wideout’s offseason just keeps getting stranger and stranger

AP Images/Ringer illustration

Antonio Brown has problems from his head to his toes. The five-time All-Pro has been absent from his first training camp with the Oakland Raiders for over a week. Heading into Friday afternoon, it was assumed that those absences were due to only his freak cryotherapy injury, which resulted in “extreme frostbite” on his feet. (Even cryotherapy experts are a bit baffled on how and why Brown chose to enter a cryotherapy tank without proper footwear.) However, Friday afternoon, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and NFL.com’s Mike Silver simultaneously reported that Brown is actually staying away from the team due to a disagreement over helmets. According to Silver, a Raiders coach has referred to Brown’s stance on the helmets as “the most insane thing I have ever heard.”

The NFL has adopted a new helmet policy that prevents players from wearing helmets not approved by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. Thirty-two players, including Brown, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wore helmets last season that will not be allowed under the new policy. Brady has complained about it, but has acquiesced, as has Rodgers. Brown, however, is apparently refusing to budge.

Silver reports that Brown left Raiders camp when told about the new policy, complaining that Brady and Rodgers would likely be allowed to wear their preferred helmets. When told that wasn’t true, he returned and used an approved helmet. The problem seemed to be over. Then, he reportedly painted his own helmet so it looked like an approved Raiders helmet and tried to practice without anybody noticing.

Here is my depiction of this incident:

Brown was caught, and again practiced in an approved helmet. Then he tried to sneak his helmet on the field again.

Schefter reports that Brown, the Raiders, and the NFL are at an impasse. According to Schefter, the Raiders have tried sending Brown new models of helmets, but he “is not interested in wearing any of them.” And the most critical part of Schefter’s report: Brown says he won’t play football in anything but his old helmet. Apparently, Brown’s helmet—presumed to be a Schutt model that hasn’t been produced for over a decade—is the only one which Brown feels does not interfere with his ability to see the ball as he tries to catch it.

I have some questions.

  1. Did Brown freeze his feet in the cryotherapy chamber because nobody noticed he wasn’t wearing proper footwear? Or was it a similar situation to this one, where he was informed of the proper protective gear but refused to wear it for whatever reason?
  2. Is Brown just anti protective gear? Would Brown fight an amusement park employee trying to strap him into a roller coaster?
  3. The helmet Brown wants to wear is one he’s apparently been wearing for nine years and one that was not provided by the Raiders. So, does Antonio Brown just have the one helmet he’s been wearing all these years? Did he literally bring the helmet he wore on the field with the Steelers to Oakland in hopes they’d let him continue wearing it?
  4. Did Brown hire someone to paint over his old helmet, or did he go down to the hardware store and buy paint to do it himself?
  5. If he hired someone, how does that person feel about the fact that their paint job apparently wasn’t convincing enough?
  6. If Brown did it himself, are we talking spray paint? Did he buy brushes for this?
  7. The helmet debacle has reportedly been unfolding for at least a week. How come none of this was captured on the first episode of Hard Knocks?
  8. Did Brown have any similar concerns about his hippo helmet when filming The Masked Singer?

I hope Silver or Schefter will report back with answers to any of these questions, particularly the amusement park one.

There seem to be four ways forward here. The first is that Brown acquiesces and wears an approved helmet. I have a funny feeling that this is the most likely scenario. The second is that Brown continues to wear his old helmet on the field in violation of league rules. As ESPN’s Kevin Seifert notes, the league hasn’t specified what the actual punishment for wearing an unapproved helmet is—and that punishment would be levied against the team, not the player. Brown probably wouldn’t be ejected from games for playing in the wrong helmet—this is just a uniform violation, not an in-game infraction, and would probably be treated with a fine akin to when players wear the wrong shoe color, except the fine would be on the Raiders, not Brown. Maybe the Raiders could come to an agreement with Brown where they would simply pay the fine or dock his pay. There is also the possibility that Brown somehow convinces the league of his viewpoint—reportedly, he had a two-hour conference call with the NFL about his helmet preferences.

But the fourth option teased by Schefter is the idea that nobody budges—that the NFL refuses to let Brown play in the helmet, the Raiders refuse to accommodate him, and Brown refuses to play. It seems like a long shot, but Brown has a habit of making the least likely things come to pass. In the past year, Brown skipped practices ahead of a must-win game with the Steelers and eventually left the game before it was over, demanded (and received) a trade to the Raiders, recorded the weirdest Cameos in Cameo history, and froze his feet. Now, he’s refusing to follow safety regulations that everybody else in the league is going along with. Normally I side with players on holdouts and trade demands and requests to wear the equipment that makes them feel comfortable. But combined, all Brown’s choices over the past year are worrisome—is the career of one of the best wideouts in history really going to end over a helmet? As entertaining as the trade demands and Helmet-gate and Cryo-gate have been this offseason, you’ve gotta hope Brown figures everything out and can be the transcendent player we know he can be.