In the button-down football world ruled by Tom Brady, his comments about Antonio Brown left a lot of room for interpretation, but this much is clear: He invested time in the development and rehabilitation of the wide receiver, only to see him cut by the team amid allegations of sexual assault and alleged threats to an accuser.
“I do have a lot of personal feelings, none of which I really care to share,” he said Monday morning in his weekly appearance on WEEI’s “Greg Hill Show.” “That is about it. It’s a difficult situation. That’s kind of how I feel.”
Brady typically is close-lipped, but he’s downright loquacious next to Bill Belichick. As the Globe’s Ben Volin noted, it appeared that neither man was too happy “with [owner Robert] Kraft’s decision to release AB.” Overall, some players, according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, privately voiced their displeasure, but others, according to the NFL Network’s Mike Giardi, said there was “relief” inside the organization. Volin noted that, citing CBS’s Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon, Brown spent all of practice on the day he was cut with the first team, a sign that Belichick wanted to keep him on the roster.
Whatever the case, the Patriots soldiered on and so did Brown, who tweeted that he was finished with football Sunday morning, going on to rip the NFL for a double standard in how it had handled Kraft’s arrest on misdemeanor prostitution charges and the suspension the NFL handed Ben Roethlisberger, Brown’s former quarterback in Pittsburgh, for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy in 2010 after being accused of sexual assault. Roethlisberger was the first player suspended under the NFL’s personal conduct policy who was not arrested, charged with or convicted of a crime. He also took a shot at Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe, who appears on Fox Sports 1 and formerly appeared on CBS. He was accused of sexual assault and making threats by a former girlfriend in 2010. The charges were dismissed.
Even in a time of head-spinning news developments, what happened with Brown and the Patriots was whiplash-inducing. When the Patriots signed Brown on Sept. 9, NBC’s Al Michaels described Brady as saying he was “a million percent in” on the signing and had invited Brown to move into his house. Brady downplayed that after the lawsuit against Brown by an alleged victim was filed. He did open up a vein Monday, talking about the relationship he seeks with his receivers and teammates.
“There’s a lot of human elements and I think because as a player and a person I care deeply about my teammates,” Brady said. “I want everyone to be the best they can possibly be. From the day I started with this team, even back I’d say in college, it’s such a tight-knit group and you want everyone to become the best they can possibly be and you try to provide leadership. You try to care for people. You try to provide whatever you think you can to help them reach their highest potential, whatever situation it is. I’ve had a lot of teammates over the years. You invest not just your head, but your heart. You invest your soul. That is what makes a great team. That is what makes a great brotherhood. I think in the end, that is the endearing trait about sports.
“For me, it is the relationships I get to build because they are very meaningful. That is at the heart of philosophically my life. It’s really about great relationships and seeing guys from all different backgrounds, I think it brings all of us together in so many ways. I had a privilege of a great upbringing, parents that were deeply committed, sisters that supported me, great friends. I think from my standpoint, I just try to provide the best I can, those types of things.”
Brady and the Patriots have been here before with other players. Their approach worked with Randy Moss and has so far with Josh Gordon. It did not with Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocino and Aaron Hernandez.
“I am very optimistic. People who know me, I think know how optimistic I am and just my belief that positivity and optimism can overcome a lot of things. There’s a lot of things that get in the way of that, and again, I think we’re in a culture that we want to pass judgment so quickly on people,” Brady said. “We want to disparage people so quickly. It speaks to me that a lot of people are probably hurting because when you’re not feeling great you want other people to know that. I think it becomes very emotional and again, it’s a tough life. Life is not easy. Football is not easy. Evolving and growing as people is not an easy thing.
“I [was] very different at 22 than I am now at 42. I have a lot more perspective. Life is challenging for all of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re Tom Brady or Greg Hill. We all go through different aspects of our life and we try to do the best we can do and we develop friendships and relationships and people that support us. Sports has a great way of bringing a lot of people together and I believe the more you care for people, the more you love people, the more you find joy in your life, the better our society is, the better our communities are, the better our teams are, the better our families are. That’s how I feel.”
That’s about as close as anyone is likely to get to the Patriots side of the Antonio Brown story, brief as it is.
On Sunday, the team soldiered on, although it became apparent that it could have used Brown because of Julian Edelman’s rib injury and Gordon’s banged-up fingers. Still, the Patriots moved to 3-0 with a 30-14 win over the Jets and, as Belichick would put it, they moved “on to Buffalo,” their 3-0 opponent Sunday in western New York.
After the win over the Jets, Belichick icily refused to answer questions about why Brown was released, saying only, “Focused on today’s game.” That left it to Patriots players to speak, even if they didn’t have much elucidation to offer.
“It is what it is. I mean I can’t really speak on it,” wide receiver Phillip Dorsett said, according to WEEI. “Honestly, I don’t want to speak on it. It’s a situation. It is what it is.”
Maybe Matt Slater had the best observation on how Belichick’s Patriots operate.
“I think you just have to live in the moment and operate in the moment,” the special teams captain said. “No matter what situations you’re faced with in life as an individual, or in this case as a football team, you just control the things you can control. Try and focus on positive things and as a professional keep trying to do your job. I think we have always tried to do that around here. It’s been no different here [for] the start of this season and we’ll continue to try and do that moving forward.”