The New England Patriots released wide receiver Antonio Brown Friday amid the NFL’s investigation into accusations of rape and sexual assault against him by one woman and allegations that he sent threatening text messages to another woman who had accused him of inappropriate conduct.
“We appreciate the hard work of many people over the past 11 days, but we feel that it is best to move in a different direction at this time,” the team said in a statement.
Brown becomes a free agent but his prospects of signing with another team are complicated by the possibility that the league could put him on paid administrative leave via placement on its commissioner’s exempt list. If he’s placed on the list, Brown would be paid his salary but would be ineligible to participate in practices or attend games.
Brown reacted to the move on social media.
The Patriots previously had deferred to the league’s investigation but took action Friday after a report in Sports Illustrated Thursday night about the text messages allegedly sent by Brown. Brown played in one game for the Patriots, who signed him after he was released before the season by the Oakland Raiders. Brown did not play a single game for the Raiders, who had obtained him in an offseason trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said earlier Friday at his regular media briefing in Foxborough, Massachusetts, that the team was “looking into” the situation.
“I know there are questions about Antonio,” Belichick said. “We take all the situations with our team very seriously. There are some things that we’re looking into. I’m not going to comment on any of the off-the-field situations.”
For the second time since last week, Belichick cut short a news conference because of questioning about Brown.
Brown has not been charged with a crime. But a former college classmate who worked for Brown as a trainer, Britney Taylor, accused Brown in a lawsuit in Florida of rape and sexual assault in three separate incidents in 2017 and 2018. Brown has denied the allegations through his attorney, who said that Brown regards the lawsuit as a “money grab.”
Taylor met with NFL representatives for 10 hours Monday as part of the league’s investigation.
Another woman reportedly accused Brown, through her attorney, of sending threatening text messages to her Wednesday night.
The woman told Sports Illustrated in a previous report that Brown hired her in 2017 to paint a mural in his home but fired her when she ignored his unwanted sexual advance. After that initial report, according to Sports Illustrated, the woman received a group text Wednesday night that appeared to her to include Brown’s phone and accused her of fabricating her account of the alleged incident in 2017. The text chain included photos of her and her children and was characterized by the woman as intimidating, according to the report.
The NFL’s personal conduct policy specifically prohibits “stalking, harassment, or similar forms of intimidation.”
While Brown faces no criminal charges, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is empowered under the league’s personal conduct policy to place a player on paid leave if he believes after an investigation that a player may have violated the policy. NFL officials said their investigation began after news of the lawsuit being filed was reported Sept. 10.
If Brown is placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, Goodell would decide when to remove him from it. The list is designed to keep a player off the field until the league decides whether to discipline him under the conduct policy, generally with a suspension without pay.
Brown could appeal his placement on the exempt list through the NFL Players Association. But the appeal would be resolved by Goodell, who has broad authority to discipline players under the personal conduct policy. The NFLPA’s attempts to challenge that authority in court mostly have failed. An arbitrator also upheld the league’s use of the exempt list for paid leave for players after the union filed a grievance.
Brown made his first appearance for the Patriots in their victory last Sunday at Miami. He had four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown.
Brown agreed to a one-year contract Sept. 7 with the Patriots, hours after he was released by the Raiders.