Column: The language used in the Antonio Brown case is telling

Patriots receiver Antonio Brown warms up before a practice on Sept. 11, 2019.
( Steven Senne / Associated Press)

Drew Rosenhaus has been a regular fixture on ESPN and other sports outlets the last couple of weeks because one of his star clients, Antonio Brown, has been like a side of guacamole — extra.

Literally from head (helmet) to toe (frostbite) there hasn’t been an aspect of Brown’s journey to New England that didn’t create an opportunity for Rosenhaus to tell us how Brown is being victimized.

Admittedly as a sports talk radio host and columnist I have been grateful for the drama. But this latest chapter, in which Brown’s former personal trainer Britney Taylor is accusing the mercurial wideout of sexual assault, is not entertainment. The accusations are serious and the temptation to assume Brown’s guilt must be resisted.

Similarly the temptation to view the situation as a “money grab”— which is what Rosenhaus called it — must be resisted.

As of now only two people know what happened, although Brown’s alleged text messages in the lawsuit along with an incident in January in which a woman told police the player pushed her to the ground, do not paint the player as a sympathetic figure.

This is particularly disturbing because the woman is the mother of his daughter. So when Rosenhaus goes on “SportsCenter” and says “what I want to emphasize is that Antonio takes these allegations very seriously … he is a loving father of five children, including a daughter ... I wouldn’t be doing this interview if I didn’t believe Antonio,” I can’t help but bristle.


Rosenhaus making the case for Brown’s innocence by highlighting his client has a daughter reminds me of a racist pointing to his or her one black friend. It’s a clumsy attempt to illustrate a worldview that is often undermined by one’s actions.

Antonio Brown is under investigation by the NFL, but it appears the star receiver will be eligible to play his first game with the New England Patriots on Sunday.

What does having a daughter have to do with anything? Didn’t he have a daughter when, according to the police report, he pushed her mother to the ground?

But just as important, he has sons. Sure, a father wouldn’t want his daughter to be a victim, but shouldn’t one be just as vigilant to make sure his sons don’t grow up to be perpetrators?

It’s an ideological disconnect that reminds me of a question posed by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?

This isn’t about hair splitting. This about pointing out the gentle hand of misogyny stealthily massaging the narrative regarding another athlete accused of committing a crime against a woman.

More than half the people in this country are women — thus presumably a man’s daughter — and yet sexual assault and domestic violence remain very real problems.

Sports culture isn’t plagued by a lack of daughters in an athlete’s home. It’s hindered by the same dynamic that cripples our culture as a whole: We tend to view crimes of this nature as something women need to avoid as opposed to something men should not commit.

If baseball’s unwritten rules dealt with players who beat women with the same repercussions as they do those who flip bats, I would think differently.

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However I can’t help but notice the “boys will be boys” mentality still takes precedence whenever such a revelation about an athlete comes to light. It’s hard to fault an alleged victim’s hesitance to report a crime when we have a culture that not only questions the validity of their story but also attacks their character. And when Rosenhaus does things like characterize a sexual assault accusation as a money grab, that is exactly what he is doing.

That’s not to say Taylor’s version of the story is the truth. But in having daughters, shouldn’t men want a world in which women don’t have to weigh whether or not they will be treated like a pariah if they are victimized?

There is a way to state innocence without making it easier for actual criminals. Because make no mistake about it, the language and attitudes surrounding high-profile stories like these matter.

They feed into debilitating stereotypes and tip scales that are already off kilter. When powerful men like Rosenhaus go beyond proclaiming his client’s innocence and attacks his accuser’s integrity, when a powerful man like Brown goes on social media and insinuates he’s under demonic attack, when the NFL allows Brown to play on Sunday before speaking with his accuser, a tone is set, one that understandingly would give pause to a victim in the next story. And when it comes to professional sports and the intersection of sex, money and power, there will be a next story.

I’m not naïve. I’ve been to enough Super Bowls and NBA All-Star weekends to know that there are women who roll up to the host cities and hang out in hotel lobbies looking for some sort of payday. And yes, entrapment is a real concern. But so are crimes.

Unfortunately the manner in which the sports community continues to talk about this paradigm presumes men are targets and women are opportunists. Clearly having a daughter isn’t a cure all.