Bruce Arians lied to himself that Antonio Brown wouldn't blow up and burn bridges with the Bucs. It's who he is
Maya Angelou, who gave us many beautiful words and offered great wisdom during her remarkable life, left this most enduring lesson: When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
People can talk all they want, but their actions reveal their heart.
Bruce Arians knew who Antonio Brown was, well before Sunday, when Brown threw yet another temper tantrum, this time on the field at MetLife Stadium, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trailing the New York Jets.
Arians saw Brown firsthand in Pittsburgh, where he was offensive coordinator for Brown's first two NFL seasons. And even after Arians left the Steelers, he likely heard from his former colleagues about Brown's antics and selfishness on the field and in the locker room. Everyone could read the headlines with the allegations of domestic violence against mothers of his children, the lawsuit alleging he raped one of his former trainers and the multiple people who entered into business contracts with Brown only to have them say he reneged and refused to pay, sometimes claiming social media posts promoting their work were a form of currency.
Bruce Arians knew who Antonio Brown was. He told a radio show in March 2020 that even though the Buccaneers had signed Tom Brady and Brady was an ally of Brown despite Brown spending less than two weeks with the Patriots (and torching his bridge with team brass on the way out, natch) adding Brown in Tampa Bay was "not gonna happen."
“Yeah, I just know him, and — it’s not a fit in our locker room,” Arians added in that interview.
And yet somewhere along the way, whether it was Brady's prodding or the unyielding need to win or the disarming charm we've heard Brown can turn on when he wants or the desire to add a Super Bowl ring to his hand as a head coach, Arians convinced himself that what he believed was a lie.
He signed Brown. And then he signed him again.
On Sunday, Arians stopped lying to himself. He'd seen enough, and declared after the game, the one where Brady led another game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds, that Brown's days as a Buccaneer were done.
Antonio Brown has a meltdown at the hand of the #Jets and #BraxtonBerrios pic.twitter.com/RGhSYpyrOu
— Miller (@mmmmillah) January 2, 2022
It says so much about the NFL that this was the thing that got Brown cut, and if past is prologue, it will be the thing that leads to him not playing in the league again.
It wasn't the alleged violence against women in his life, it wasn't the assault on a moving truck worker, it wasn't the rape allegation, it wasn't the fake vaccination card.
It was quitting on his team.
That is the cardinal sin in the NFL.
That's what led Arians to stop lying to himself and re-focus on who Brown really is and what he knew to be true.
Coaches and organizations coddled and enabled Brown for years, wowed by what he brought on game days. What we see now is the result of that enabling: Brown never takes responsibility for anything he does. As recently as last week, he tried to take a Bucs beat reporter to task for bringing up his suspension and what it meant to him that Arians had stuck by him, claiming the media is "all about drama."
Brown is the King of Self-Inflicted Drama. That suspension came about when the NFL opened an investigation because a chef, who claimed that Brown owed him thousands of dollars, told a reporter that there was a strong likelihood Brown's vaccine card was fraudulent. The irony of it all.
Every one of Brown's blowups, on and off the field, have been excused away because he can catch a football.
Arians had said upon signing Brown in late October 2020 that the receiver would be gone if he had one screwup. Many people thought faking his COVID vaccination card was that screwup, but it wasn't to Arians, who just days ago told reporters in Tampa he "could give a s***" about people who were critical of the team's decision to keep Brown after serving his three-game suspension.
A week ago he gloated to reporter Peter King that Brown had been "a model citizen" in his 14 months with the Bucs.
Seven days later, here we are.
That energy Arians had defending himself and general manager Jason Licht for keeping Brown was nowhere to be found after the game. After saying Brown was no longer a Buc, he offered a pitiful "I'm not talking about him" when asked to elaborate on what unfolded on the sideline that led to Brown stripping from the waist up, throwing his undershirt and gloves into the stands, and then doing some kind of bizarre jog-off into the tunnel, throwing deuces along the way.
You didn't just tacitly support him by keeping him on the roster, Bruce, you told everyone he'd changed. You did that.
But on the day Brown inevitably turned on Arians — the day the coach had to know was coming because Brown has turned on pretty much everyone who has tried to support him and given him a job over the past several years — suddenly Arians had nothing to say, at least not to the reporters who are there every day writing about his team and likely would offer pushback. At the moment Arians needed to be accountable, he wasn't.
Maybe he was hurt after getting stabbed in the back, but when you're dealing with someone who is always a moment away from pulling out that proverbial knife, you know it's only a matter of time until they do.
Bruce Arians knew who Antonio Brown was. He convinced himself that what he knew to be true was a lie.
On Sunday, in the most public way, Brown committed the NFL's cardinal sin. And for that, Arians finally opened his eyes again to who Brown really is.