What Antonio Brown Leaving The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Says About The Modern-Day Black Athlete

What Antonio Brown Leaving The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Says About The Modern-Day Black Athlete

Despite the various playoff implications and wild finishes that occurred during Week 17 of the NFL regular season, the most unpredictable outcome of the weekend was mercurial former Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown leaving Met Life Stadium during the middle of his team’s game against the New York Jets this past Sunday (Jan. 2).

Brown, who won a Super Bowl with the Bucs last season, was seen arguing on the sideline with Buccaneers coaches and teammates during the third quarter of the game before abruptly stripping off his uniform and throwing various items into the crowd prior to exiting the field. Shortly after, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers informed the media that Brown was no longer a part of the team and would be cut from the roster, ending the playmaker’s tumultuous tenure with the organization.

Antonio Brown on the field

Antonio Brown No. 81 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers warms up before Super Bowl LV against the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Why Antonio Brown Left The Field And Money On The Table

The entire scenario was a peculiar one, leaving many viewers, fans, and pundits scratching their heads. Many wondered what could have possibly caused Brown to not only walk out on his team, but a potential $1 million payout in performance-based incentives, which the former All-Pro wideout was on the brink of fulfilling at the time of his departure. According to reports, Brown needed eight more catches in order to receive a $333,333 bonus, 55 more receiving yards for another $333,333 bonus, and one more receiving touchdown for another $333,333 bonus.

Many chalked up Brown’s antics to his history of questionable and volatile behavior, while others, such as Brown’s own brother, Desmond Brown, blamed the receiver’s “selfish” pursuit of the potential incentives as the catalyst for clouding his vision. However, while Brown himself has yet to elaborate on what caused him to be jettisoned from the Bucs’ franchise, additional reports point to another factor that led to his decision to leave the team and forgo the opportunity to help defend their Super Bowl: Health.

Prioritizing Physical And Mental Health

NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport revealed that Brown had recently suffered an ankle injury, which caused him to miss multiple practices during the week leading up to the Bucs’ matchup against the Jets. With the Bucs, who were leading 28–24 at the time, down a few playmakers and still battling for position in the NFC playoff seeding, their coaching staff, most notably Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians, wanted to utilize Brown’s skills to ensure their chance at securing the victory.

Yet, Brown, who was still feeling hampered by his ankle and had previously voiced being uncomfortable with playing with such an injury, refused to enter the game when called upon by Arians. This led the coaching staff to give him the ultimatum that he would no longer be a part of the team if he did not comply with their order. In turn, Brown, who has shown a propensity for defiantly marching to the beat of his own drum, did what more and more athletes, particularly Black ones, are now finding the strength to do, and that’s to simply walk away. Not only from the game, but the emotional and mental constraints of feeling enslaved to a consortium of owners who have shown a willingness to sacrifice the well-being of their labor force for the sake of the almighty dollar.

While Brown, who has yet to officially be released by the Buccaneers as of press time, could possibly join another NFL roster prior to season’s end if eligible, his decision to walk off into the sunset continues a trend among modern-day Black athletes, who have begun to buck back against the system, even in the face of leaving millions of dollars on the table.

Black Athletes Who Chose To Remove The Shackles

Former NFL player Ricky Williams, one of the better running backs during his time in the league, chose to take a hiatus from the game after retiring from football in 2004. Williams, who had failed multiple drug tests for marijuana, used his time to study Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of holistic medicine, at the California College of Ayurveda, and has said that his marijuana usage was in part medicinal due to the physical rigors of football.

While Williams eventually returned to the gridiron, the same cannot be said for fellow former NFL player Calvin Johnson who, like Brown, was an All-Pro receiver at the height of his career. Johnson played for the Detroit Lions for the entirety of his career and retired after the 2015 NFL season due to losing his passion for the game in light of his deteriorating health and the Lions’ lack of success during his tenure. At the time, Johnson was considered among the best players in the league, making his decision a shocking one to many outsiders. However, the receiver, who has since been inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, chose to place his health above his love for the game and is now helping lead the charge to remove the stigma around cannabis in sports.

Kyrie Irving sits on the bench

Kyrie Irving, No. 11 of the Brooklyn Nets, follows the action from the bench during a preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Oct. 3, 2021, in Los Angeles.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Another recent example of an athlete who has gone against the grain for the sake of his own mental health and physical well-being is Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, whose decision not to get vaccinated for COVID-19 has been well-documented, highly controversial, and ultimately, caused him to miss the entirety of the NBA regular season so far.

When faced with the prospect of being unable to play in any of the Nets’ regular-season or playoff home games due to New York City’s vaccination mandates, he did not budge. When the Nets organization itself doubled down and refused to allow Irving to be a part-time participant in the team’s basketball games or activities, he continued to stick to his guns. Now, with the Nets’ roster being depleted due to the NBA’s COVID health and safety protocols, Irving has been welcomed back to the team and could potentially make his regular-season debut against the Indiana Pacers this Wednesday (Jan. 5).

Irving’s return will mark the latest victory for Black athletes and is a reminder that only you truly have the power to decide to forgo the trappings of your profession, whatever it may be, for the true wealth that is health, freedom, and peace of mind.

Ironically, the first public sighting of Brown following his fallout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was courtside at the Brooklyn Nets’ game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday (Jan. 3). And we’ve got a pretty good feeling about which squad he was rooting for.

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