Let’s call the Patriots’ handling of Antonio Brown for what it is: Putting lipstick on a pigskin.
The team doesn’t even think it owes fans an explanation about what was known about the star receiver’s sexual assault allegations before signing him to a $15 million contract. Coach Bill Belichick has been mum, and quarterback Tom Brady offered this: “Things that don’t involve me, don’t involve me.”
Clearly, the boys are closing ranks with owner Bob Kraft, who is still fighting a prostitution charge in Florida. His apology for his bad behavior sounds even more hollow today. “I am truly sorry,” Kraft said in a March 23 statement. “I have extraordinary respect for women.”
If he really respected women, Kraft would have thought twice about hiring Brown, who has a well-known history of bad behavior and run-ins with the law, which included an allegation of a domestic dispute. The Oakland Raiders, for example, voided his $30 million contract over alleged misbehavior.
On Tuesday, Brown’s former trainer filed a federal lawsuit claiming that he sexually assaulted her three times in the past two years. Included in the suit were some texts allegedly from Brown; the misogynistic tone alone should be grounds for some kind of punishment. The NFL has launched an investigation, but if Brown worked anywhere else instead of for a powerful sports league, he probably would have been put on leave by now. Instead of sitting on the bench, Brown is expected to make his debut in a Pats uniform Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
Brown denies the allegations and he is innocent until proven guilty, but these days the Patriot Way is about looking the other way. It was supposed to be different after the #MeToo movement, but powerful institutions and powerful men still don’t get it. Consider this: A man accused of sexual misconduct by 24 women can be elected president of the United States; a man who may have sexually assaulted a high school friend can become a Supreme Court justice; a man who is a convicted sex offender can reinvent himself as generous donor to MIT and Harvard.
“We are experiencing a terrible climate right now for sexual assault accusations, primarily because people seemed to be swayed by an argument that they should worry more about the consequences to the abuser,” said Marsha V. Kazarosian, a partner in Kazarosian Costello LLP, who handles civil rights and gender discrimination cases.
Patriot fans — and their corporate sponsors — should expect more from our 2019 Super Bowl champions.
“More than anything, it’s a huge missed opportunity for a leading New England organization to show what can be done,” said Gina Scaramella, executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. “What we have gotten is: ‘We’re not going to talk about it.’ For this issue, it’s not the way to go.”
Scaramella believes Brown should have his day in court, but the Patriots need to have an accountable process in the meantime. “This is a forcible rape allegation,” she said. “There is a link between the kind of behavior Brown had been exhibiting and sexual and domestic violence.”
The long roster of Patriot sponsors can’t be happy either with another sexual misconduct controversy. Think about the poor executives of Gillette Co. which in January launched a viral ad campaign that rails against toxic masculinity.
Talk about a marketing misfire, with the Patriots playing in Gillette Stadium. In a statement, the Boston shaving company said it is “aware of the allegations being reported” and that it has “no direct relationship” with Brown.
“We understand that an investigation will now take place and we believe this is the right next step for any reports of this nature,” the statement said.
If history is a guide, the Patriots will let Brown go. That’s what Kathy Redmond, founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, thinks.
She should know. Redmond has been that woman — filing a federal Title IX lawsuit in 1995 against the University of Nebraska for failing to act on sexual assault allegations related to one of its football players, Christian Peter. Redmond was a freshman when Peter allegedly raped her twice; he was never charged.
A year after her lawsuit, Peter was drafted by the Patriots in the fifth round, but he was released a few days later after his violent past against women caught up with him.
More than two decades later, Redmond is still grateful to Kraft and the Patriots for making the difficult decision to cut Peter. That’s why she thinks they will do the right thing.
“For me, they have a legacy, and standard that they need to uphold,” she said. “In my opinion, cutting him is doing the right thing.”
Let’s hope Redmond is right. But the Patriots are a different team today. Myra Kraft, the football dynasty’s matriarch and moral compass, is gone. Now, winning trumps all, even if it means sacrificing the team’s values.
Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.