How you can make sense of the Antonio Brown helmet controversy

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NFL: Oakland Raiders-OTAKirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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Well, you can’t say the NFL doesn’t provide unique stories to consume and discuss. Antonio Brown, new Raiders receiver, has been away from the team dealing with a foot issue. If you’ve seen the photos, you know it’s legit. The Raiders haven’t officially said what happened, but the team and Brown are dealing with what is reported to be frostbite. We knew this. And now we know so much more.

On Friday, we got a glimpse into an odd issue that’s keeping Brown off the field. It started with Mike Silver’s tweet storm, followed up by his article and further reporting by Adam Schefter: Brown’s preferred helmet isn’t available anymore and he won’t play until he’s allowed to wear it.

Due to player safety, it’s hard to imagine Brown winning his grievance

We know player safety is a major priority for the NFL and that includes the equipment players wear. The NFL tests helmets and gives them ratings. If they don’t meet standards or if they are older than 10 years, they can’t be worn.

Before the 2018 season, the model of helmet worn by Brown, as well as quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, was outlawed. However, the NFL allowed them to wear this helmet for 2018 only. Now that it’s the 2019 season, all of those players are required to switch helmets — and Brown doesn’t want to.

Based on Silver’s and Schefter’s reporting, it’s been anything but smooth with this helmet situation. It went so far as Brown painting his old helmet in Raiders colors and trying to get onto the practice field with it, but that of course didn’t work.

Brown has filed a grievance against the NFL over the helmet issue, and I highly doubt he’ll win. If he does, then it sets a precedent that anyone else can do the same and wear a helmet that’s not approved.

The problem with this helmet is that it’s past the 10-year age limit, so Brown has to wear a different kind. But Brown believes the new certified helmet protrudes out and interferes with his vision as he tries to catch the football, according to Schefter.

Athletes are superstitious by nature

I understand where Brown is coming from here.

Our equipment is part of our superstition and routine. I wore the same style of gloves. I taped my hands the same way every day. On gameday, I had a different person tape my hands than in practice. Wrinkles weren’t allowed in the tape, ever, or else we’d start over. I warmed up for games at the exact same time. I’d put my pads on 20 minutes before we needed to be out.

So if Brown thinks that a new helmet would interfere with his vision and if it’s presumably uncomfortable for him, I totally get it, as do most players. All of us have had to switch helmets as technology has improved and made them safer.

But even if I understand Brown’s hesitation to switch helmets, he’s going to have to comply to play in the future. He can’t paint his old helmet again, or try to sneak the helmet on the field, like some have suggested he do. The Raiders, and the NFL, won’t allow him to play without the proper headgear.

What could Brown do? What about the Raiders?

Brown could follow through and retire (something he hinted about on Instagram), but he’d forfeit over $30 million in guaranteed money. In most early retirements, signing bonus money must be repaid but Brown didn’t receive a large bonus, so that wouldn’t affect him as much. However, his salary over the next few seasons is guaranteed, which he wouldn’t receive without playing.

The Raiders have some recourse here. They’re not going to cut him because they’d owe him all that guaranteed money. But they could put Brown on the NFL’s reserve/left squad list. It would shelve Brown for the season and the Raiders wouldn’t have to pay him. The problem is they wouldn’t be able to bring him back during the season if he ever came around to switching helmets.

I can’t see the Raiders going this route for a while. They want Brown to play this season. That’s why they traded for him.

This story is so odd that it’s hard to predict how it might finish. I’ve never seen a player threaten to retire because of an equipment issue. And while I think it’s highly improbable this happens, Brown was interviewed in March during the trade drama with the Steelers and said he doesn’t need to play football. We will find out how much that’s true over the next few weeks.

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