Elite athletes from tennis superstar Naomi Osaka, swimming sensation Michael Phelps to Olympic gymnast Simone Biles have sparked a global discussion about mental health, but the conversation reignited this past Sunday when Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown stormed off the field during the third quarter.
“Anyone who makes comments about his mental health (including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) which unfortunately I have heard too many people hypothesize) without interviewing him is being irresponsible,” said Dr. Mitch Abrams, a sport and forensic psychologist and national expert in anger management in sports.
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CTE is a degenerative disease of the brain secondary to repeated trauma of the head that can only be diagnosed on autopsy, according to the Boston University CTE Center.
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After stripping off his gear, tossing his undershirt into the stands and then storming off the field shirtless on Sunday, head coach Bruce Arians said, “He is no longer a Buc. That’s the end of the story,” with the team officially releasing him today.
However, Brown released a statement through his attorney on Wednesday refuting that he left the game due to a “mental health issue,” but instead blamed a nagging ankle injury that prevented him from playing any longer past the third quarter due to pain.
An MRI on Monday confirmed broken bone fragments, a torn ligament as well as cartilage loss, the statement said
He admitted, “I have stress, I have things I need to work on.”
“But the worst part of this has been the Bucs’ repeated effort to portray this as a random outburst. They are telling people that first I walked off, then I was cut. No. No. No. I was cut first and then I went home. They threw me out like an animal and I refused to wear their brand on my body, so I took my jersey off.”
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The Buccaneers admitted in a statement today that Brown did receive treatment for his ankle and was on the injury report for the week leading up to the game on Sunday, but he was medically cleared to play on Sunday.
“Maintaining the health and wellness of our players is of the utmost importance to our organization,” the team said.
Brown’s latest Sunday outburst was the culmination of a series of incidents relating to his bizarre behavior, including multiple disputes between the NFL and Raiders organization regarding helmet use, sexual assault accusations, felony battery and burglary charges (which he pleaded no contest), and a suspension for using a false COVID-19 vaccination card.
Being an NFL player ” … is inherently stressful in terms of the frequently unrealistic expectations and unrelenting scrutiny of fans and even family members, the lack of job security, [and] the physical demands of an often very brief professional football career,” said Dr. Lisa Post, clinical psychologist and director of sports medicine in psychiatry at Stanford, who worked as a team clinician for the NFL for 13 years.
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“The NFL is making attempts at providing a greater level of psychological support by requiring each team to hire a part-time mental health provider for a minimum of 12 hours a week during the season.”
She told Fox News that the NFL, through its Life Line program, provides referrals to mental health providers to help address stress and other wellness issues.
But Abrams cautioned Brown’s behavior shouldn’t be condoned: “Antonio Brown is one of many athletes [who] have not been held accountable for his flamboyant, entitled, and at times, [alleged] criminal behavior. He continued to get chances because he is that good of a player. Teams don’t make decisions based upon morality (unless they have no choice), they look for who can help the team win and therefore, make money.”
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Nevertheless, he advised the public to suspend judgment, because abnormal reactions to abnormal situations is normal behavior, cautioning that people don’t exactly know what he is dealing with.
“Mental illness & CTE is real and unfortunately it’s a real reality for a lot of us in this business. Instead of making fun of him and chasing clout, let’s figure out a way to give him the help he needs,” tweeted Kansas City Chiefs practice squad wide receiver Daurice Fountain.
For current and former NFL players, coaches, team and staff and their family members who may need mental health help, go to NFL Life Line, call 1-800-506-0078 or chat online with trained counselors at any time of day, 365 days a year.
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress, call the free 24/7 suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.