Free-agent receiver Antonio Brown made news on Monday by walking away from a game that currently doesn’t want him. He’s done it before, and there’s a good chance he’ll do it again.
The reality is that Brown currently has no team and, more importantly, no clearance from the league to play. Monday’s tantrum quite likely is the result of the exasperation he’s feeling as the league continues to delay the resolution of multiple investigations for off-field allegations and, in the case of one incident for which he has pleaded no contest to felony charges, to delay the imposition of discipline. The first incident emerged in September 2019.
Brown already has served a de facto 14-game unpaid suspension, given that no one will sign him while the risk remains that adding him to the active roster would quickly result in his placement on paid leave, via the Commissioner Exempt list. As training camps prepare to open and as teams prepare lists of players they’ll call if a need arises, Brown’s unsettled status keeps him in limbo.
Although Brown’s antics over the past 18 months have made him anything but a sympathetic figure, his situation exposes real flaws in the league’s Personal Conduct Policy. There should be clear deadlines for concluding investigations, for making decisions, for imposing discipline, and for conducting hearings. The paid-leave donut hole gives the NFL the power to keep a free agent facing discipline out of the league for the entirety of the case — with no requirement for getting the case resolved by a specific date.
Regardless of whether the league has the power to behave this way (it does), that doesn’t mean it should. As a matter of basic fairness, these investigations should be conducted and resolved expeditiously, because when it comes to Antonio Brown and any other player who may be in a similar situation in the future, justice delayed is employment denied.