The Antonio Brown saga of 2019, which had been packed full of surprises and was a source of social-media entertainment, is no longer amusing. In a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Southern District of Florida, the Patriots wide receiver was accused of exploitation, sexual assault and rape.
The plaintiff, 28-year-old Britney Taylor, alleges the 31-year-old Brown sexually assaulted her on three occasions in 2017 and 2018, with the third incident escalating to rape.
The Patriots, who signed Brown to a one-year contract Saturday hours after the Raiders released him, acknowledged the lawsuit Tuesday in a statement and noted the NFL had informed the team it will investigate the alleged incidents. As of Wednesday morning, the NFL itself had not issued a statement on Brown’s case.
Based on the NFL’s options, though, we have a good idea of what the league will do. In terms of Brown’s availability to New England, the ball is in NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s court. He has the power to place Brown on the commissioner exempt list while the league investigates the matter, and we suspect he will.
Below is everything you need to know about the Brown case and his status moving forward.
What we know about the lawsuit against Antonio Brown
Taylor, a gymnast from Memphis, Tenn., met Brown in 2010 when the two were students at Central Michigan. She was paired with Brown as bible study partners in the college’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes group. Three years later, Brown, then with the Steelers, contacted Taylor and asked her to send him a revealing photo via social media, according to the lawsuit. Taylor refused, and the two fell out of touch.
In 2017, Brown contacted Taylor, who had opened a gym, to request training ahead of the upcoming NFL season. Taylor agreed to help, and their arrangement included Taylor flying on occasion to Pittsburgh and Florida, where Brown had homes. According to the lawsuit, Taylor “never dated or had an interest in any romantic relationship with Brown. Their relationship, as far as Ms. Taylor believed and behaved, was that of a ‘brother-sister’ type.”
The following is the list of allegations as a result of what occurred from that point through 2018, straight from the lawsuit’s introduction:
- This case is about how Antonio Brown — a highly successful wide receiver in the NFL — exploited, sexually assaulted, and raped his former trainer Britney Taylor. Brown preyed on Ms. Taylor’s kindness and her religious devotion, casting himself as a person equally dedicated to his religious faith and someone she could trust. In reality, he used manipulation and false promises to lure her into his world, and once there, he sexually assaulted and raped her. These heinous acts have inflicted severe and dramatic damage on Ms. Taylor, irreparably harming her.
- In June 2017, Brown sexually assaulted Ms. Taylor twice while they were together for training sessions. First, Brown exposed himself and kissed Ms. Taylor without her consent. Later that month, Brown, while positioned behind Ms. Taylor, began masturbating near her without her knowledge and ejaculated on her back. Ms. Taylor realized what occurred when she felt a wet spot soak through her clothing. Later, in astonishingly profane and angry text messages, Brown bragged about the incident to her.
- Shocked and deeply embarrassed by this assault and his degrading messages, Ms. Taylor cut off her working relationship with Brown.
- However, several months later, Brown reached out to Ms. Taylor, expressing contrition, begging forgiveness and pleading with her to train him again. Ms. Taylor was hesitant but eventually agreed, swayed by his assurance that he would cease any sexual advances.
- Brown’s assurances proved false.
- On May 20, 2018, Brown cornered Ms. Taylor, forced her down onto a bed, pushed her face into the mattress, and forcibly raped her. Ms. Taylor tried to resist him, but Brown was too strong and physically overpowered her. She screamed and cried throughout the entire rape, repeatedly shouting “no” and “stop.” Brown refused and penetrated her.
- Brown’s assaults and rape have severely traumatized Ms. Taylor. Ms. Taylor has suffered near-daily panic attacks and suicidal ideations.
- Ms. Taylor brings this action to recover compensatory and punitive damages for the significant harm Brown caused by this brutal and sadistic misconduct.
Who is Britney Taylor?
Taylor’s lawsuit against Brown describes her as a “world-class gymnast.” A Memphis native, she started gymnastics at age 3. While in high school she reached “elite” status, which according to the lawsuit made her eligible to compete in international competitions. The lawsuit also states Taylor “will be inducted into the inaugural Tennessee Gymnastics Hall of Fame” this year.
In 2010, Taylor spent her freshman year of college at Central Michigan, but the next year she transferred to LSU, the school from which she graduated.
In 2016, Taylor opened a gymnastics training center in Memphis “for predominantly African-American girls.”
According to the lawsuit, Taylor “succeeded in (gymnastics) even though she often worked with unsupportive and verbally abusive coaches and was almost always the lone African-American gymnast on her team
and at meets.” It states that, with her gym, Taylor “wanted to create a safe and supportive environment for young girls of color to thrive in the sport of gymnastics — something that was often missing for her when she was a young girl.”
What is Antonio Brown’s defense team saying?
Brown’s lawyer, Darren Heitner, issued a statement Tuesday night claiming the receiver “denies each and every allegation in the lawsuit.” On Twitter, Heitner said “Brown will leave no stone unturned and will aggressively defend himself, including exercising all of his rights in countersuits.”
Brown claims he was approached by Taylor in 2017, not the other way around as Taylor alleges, after he signed a Steelers contract making him the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL. Brown says Taylor asked him to invest $1.6 million in her business project, and when he refused, she cut off communications.
Then, Brown says, Taylor contacted him in 2018 and offered her training services. Per Heitner’s statement: “The accuser engaged Mr. Brown in a consensual personal relationship. Any sexual interaction with Mr. Brown was entirely consensual. The accuser not only traveled to Mr. Brown’s residences on multiple occasions, she traveled from Tennessee to Florida and returned at 2 a.m. to Mr. Brown’s residence ten days after the alleged assault. The accuser continued communications with Mr. Brown throughout 2018, and even asked Mr. Brown for tickets to a Pittsburgh Steelers football game in the winter of 2018.”
Brown claims he is the victim of a “money grab.” Heitner’s statement says Taylor “has continually posted photographs of Mr. Brown on her social media in an effort to financially benefit from his celebrity.”
As for the alleged rape in May 2018, Brown claims the two had consensual sex:
“In May 2018, Mr. Brown’s accuser invited herself to join Mr. Brown and his friends, who were patrons at Miami adult entertainment clubs. After several hours of partying, Mr. Brown and his friends called it a night. Instead of leaving by herself, as she had arrived, and returning to her hotel, Mr. Brown’s accuser solicited Mr. Brown to join her and return to Mr. Brown’s residence where the two engaged in consensual sex.”
Will the NFL, Patriots suspend Antonio Brown?
According to The Washington Post, the NFL is giving “serious consideration” to putting Brown on the commissioner exempt list. This essentially would put Brown on temporary paid leave while the league completes an investigation into the accusations against him. While on the list, Brown would not be able to practice with the Patriots or play in games.
The fact that Brown is accused in a civil lawsuit, and that he is not being charged with any crimes, means there is a lower burden of persuasion for Taylor in court. It’s simply Taylor’s word vs. Brown’s word. In terms of potential discipline from the NFL, though, the league does not need to see criminal charges or a conviction to take Brown off the field.
According to the league’s personal conduct policy, Goodell can place Brown on the commissioner exempt list if “an investigation leads the commissioner to believe that a player may have violated” the policy. Prohibited conduct in the policy includes “assault and/or battery, including sexual assault or other sex offenses.”
In order to suspend Brown as a result of its investigation, the NFL needs “credible evidence” to establish that he violated the policy. This could be tricky. Again, because this is a civil case rather than a criminal case, there is a lesser burden of proof, and evidence of Brown’s violation could be difficult to demonstrate.
As a comparison, Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann cited the NFL’s decision to suspend Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott six games in 2017 for domestic violence-related conduct “despite Elliott’s denial and questions about evidence.” On the other hand, this year, Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill was not disciplined by the NFL despite a verbal warning aimed at his fiancee that could have been deemed a violation of the policy.
Taylor reportedly is willing to cooperate with the NFL in an investigation, and Brown would be obligated to do the same, per his contract.
As for Brown’s playing status for the season, a placement on the commissioner exempt list would be indefinite. An investigation could last months or longer. If the NFL at the conclusion of that investigation decides Brown violated the policy via “sexual assault involving physical force,” the minimum suspension is six games without pay.
So Brown’s availability depends first on Goodell, who solely owns the power to place the receiver on the exempt list. If Brown is put on that list, the amount of time he spends on it — combined with whether the NFL suspends him as a result of the investigation — will determine whether he plays for New England in 2019.
For now, the Patriots will take a “wait and see” approach, allowing the league to act first on Brown.