By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
UPDATE: The NFL will not place Antonio Brown on the commissioner’s exempt list in Week 2, making him eligible to play for the Patriots at the Dolphins. The league just opened its own investigation and has yet to speak to Britney Taylor, Brown’s accuser, so they will not place him on the exempt list over mere accusations. But that doesn’t mean Brown has avoided some kind of discipline later in the season.
The Patriots had Antonio Brown at practice on Wednesday, but the wide receiver could still find himself ineligible to play.
That’s because the NFL is going to consider placing Brown on paid leave via the commissioner’s exempt list, according to a new report by Mark Maske of the Washington Post. A person close to the situation told Maske that the NFL is “going to have to focus on” the new civil lawsuit, which accuses Brown of raping and sexually assaulting a woman he met in college and later hired as his trainer.
If placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, Brown would be barred from playing or practicing with the Patriots. He would, however, still be allowed at Gillette Stadium to attend meetings, participate in off-field workouts, and receive medical treatment.
As noted by legal analyst Daniel Wallach, there are parallels between Brown’s case and that of NBA star Derrick Rose, who in 2015 was accused of rape in a civil lawsuit filed without a prior police report or criminal charges. A jury eventually cleared Rose, while the NBA waited for the legal process to play out without punishing him.
It’s possible that the NFL grants Brown similar leeway and lets the legal process take care of itself, which would avoid setting a dangerous precedent. The league has placed players on the commissioner’s exempt list for reasons far less serious than allegations of rape or sexual assault. For example, former Patriots running back Jeff Demps went on the list in 2013 while he trained for the Olympics in track & field.
However, there’s a much longer list of players who went on the exempt list for more disturbing reasons. That list includes Michael Vick (illegal dog fighting), Adrian Peterson (child abuse), Greg Hardy (assault), Josh Brown (domestic violence), Reuben Foster (domestic violence), and Kareem Hunt (assault).
The major difference with Brown and most of these other cases, though, is that there are no criminal charges against Brown – yet. Allegheny county DA Stephen Zappala is going to look into the case to see if it’s necessary to pursue a criminal case against Brown, according to Pittsburgh-area investigative reporter Andy Sheehan. (Update: The DA clarified that he received an unrelated case, and decided not to move forward with an investigation.)
Until Brown faces a criminal case, it may be too risky for the NFL to place Brown on the exempt list with only a civil lawsuit in place. The NFLPA would almost certainly push back against such a move, if only to protect players from future placement on the list under similar or less serious circumstances. Hunt ended up on the exempt list last November after video surfaced of his alleged assault on a woman at an Ohio hotel. The legal process had already played out in that case.
Considering Brown’s presence at practice, and Belichick’s “one day at a time” answer on his status for Sunday, it appears that the Patriots are going to let the league decide whether he can keep playing.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.