Even before suffering bizarre injuries to his feet that have caused him to miss all but two days of his first training camp with the Oakland Raiders, Antonio Brown alarmed coaches and teammates by railing against the NFL’s enforcement of helmet regulations, a policy which will likely force the star receiver to switch to a new model.
Brown’s vocal resistance to the mandate, both during OTAs and shortly after his arrival in Napa, California, for training camp, has contributed to a disconnect with the team that acquired the seven-time Pro Bowl selection via a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers last March.
According to four sources familiar with Brown’s current absence from camp, which dates back to late last week, Raiders coaches and players are concerned that the receiver’s unhappiness regarding the helmet issue might be playing a role in his decision to stay away from Napa. Brown initially left to seek an additional medical opinion on his frostbitten feet, which he injured after failing to wear proper footwear inside a cryogenic therapy chamber.
Before leaving, Brown pushed back for a third time against the league’s prohibition of the helmet model he has worn for his entire nine-year career. His continued frustration surrounding the situation has created a buzz among teammates and coaches, one of whom referred to the saga as “honestly the most insane thing I have ever heard. I don’t know why it’s so important to him. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Brown could not be reached for comment. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has not responded to messages seeking a response.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports Brown has filed a grievance with the NFL over league’s enforcement of its helmet regulations. Brown had a hearing Friday in front of neutral independent arbitrator.
Brown’s pushback began in May, when the receiver was informed by the Raiders that the NFL had officially eliminated the one-year grace period for certain helmet models which had fallen short in laboratory testing for head-impact severity. This meant that 32 players who finished the 2018 season on NFL rosters, including star quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, would have to switch to approved helmets.
According to a league source, Brown was not one of the 32 players wearing a prohibited helmet last season. The issue with Brown’s helmet is due to a NFL policy that players must wear helmets that are NOCSAE certified. Brown’s helmet cannot be recertified because it is more than 10 years old.
On a conference call with reporters earlier this spring, Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of health and safety initiatives, said that any team found to have known about a player wearing a banned helmet or to have facilitated the use of one would be subject to league discipline. According to reports at the time, each team’s equipment manager had been instructed to remove all banned helmets.
All of this was conveyed to Brown at the team’s training facility in Alameda, California, a few days before the start of Phase Three OTAs — the first time players are allowed to wear helmets during on-field workouts. When he showed up for the first OTA, however, Brown requested his old helmet. After being told he’d have to wear an approved model, witnesses say, the receiver began loudly voicing his displeasure, complaining that quarterbacks such as Brady and Rodgers were not being subjected to the same scrutiny.
Shortly thereafter, Brown stormed out of the facility in protest.
The following day, Brown showed up in Alameda and acted like nothing had happened, accepting the new helmet from an equipment manager without protest and completing the workout. However, sometime in the next couple of weeks, Brown once again tried to take the field with his old helmet, which he had since repainted with colors approximating — but not completely mimicking — the Raiders‘ silver-and-black design. He was told the helmet was not allowed, and once again, he acquiesced and wore the new model.
Before Brown arrived at training camp last month, coaches and teammates believed the issue had been resolved. But Brown, who practiced on his tender feet for only two days before leaving Napa to seek another opinion, tried yet again to sneak his old helmet onto the practice field, ultimately being told by team officials to remove it.
“He’s still freaking out about it,” said one Raiders player. “He hasn’t been here for awhile, and no one knows where he’s at.”
All of this has created an aura of mystery and uncertainty surrounding the receiver, whose highly productive tenure with the Steelers ended after a stretch of turmoil and dissatisfaction that dated back to last December, with Brown, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, being benched for the team’s season finale because he’d skipped several practices following a dispute with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Since joining the Raiders, Brown has frustrated his new bosses by showing up late to numerous meetings and by often appearing unfocused in them. Brown, according to witnesses, typically glances at the screens of several tablets and his smart phone during meetings, distracting himself by engaging in activities which include perusing his bank accounts and “liking” photos on Instagram.
Still, according to one source, “the meeting thing isn’t that bad … but the feet, helmet and going dark is an issue.”
Follow Michael Silver on Twitter at @MikeSilver