The Legal and Fantasy Outlook for Antonio Brown

Examining the two legal cases against Antonio Brown and his chances to play in 2020.

Please note that the author understands that in any situation involving these types of allegations it can appear to be insensitive to discuss fantasy football when such serious issues are in play. Please don’t mistake the discussion of the implications for your fantasy teams as a lack of attention to the real human costs of what is involved in these cases. You are here for fantasy football content, so that’s where this article will attempt to draw a conclusion.

The last year for Antonio Brown has been quite a whirlwind. He’s been involved in a string of odd to downright bizarre incidents that have landed him in legal trouble in both civil and criminal courts. Every one of these events has been captured by the ever-expanding social media coverage that provides access to these issues like never before. As a result, it’s often difficult to sift through what is factual and what is sensational or incorrect. The ability of laypeople to offer opinions on these things tends to have a brushfire effect in that misconceptions can quickly take hold and become accepted as fact. The current opinion on Brown tends to be that he is beyond help at this point and his fantasy value is low. This article will explore why both of those are overblown. Brown has an uphill battle right now, but it’s not as difficult as it once was.

Brown’s fantasy appeal is contingent on the two major legal scrapes he currently finds himself in. One is the civil suit filed against him last fall for sexual misconduct, and the other is the criminal charges recently indicted down in Florida. Should Brown be able to resolve these issues in a reasonable way he still has to face the ultimate arbiter: the NFL. At this point there is reason for optimism.

CIVIL SUIT

Without rehashing everything about this case from last fall, it’s still a very important part of the equation. The victim in the civil case is alleging sexual misconduct ranging from less serious allegations of harassment, to the most serious being rape. The civil case is important because it involves bringing Brown into a legal arena in which he’ll be forced to answer questions in depositions and provide documentation of any behavior through the case’s discovery process. This includes turning over text messages, emails, and other information as part of the interrogatory process that is mandatory for both sides.

The main difference in a case like this and Tyreek Hill’s troubles is that it is unlikely there will be a gag order in a civil case like the Judge issued in the Hill criminal matter and thus the NFL will have lots of information to use in their investigation. That information could and should include interviews with women affected by Brown’s behavior, police reports about violent or sexually impermissible behavior, and what is sure to be voluminous social media and electronic communication.

The league has been eerily silent when it comes to their investigation after initially saying they wanted to wrap it up quickly. There are two important conclusions from this: 1) Brown has already served a de facto suspension by the league; and 2) Brown has had time to rehabilitate his image while the investigation was in limbo. However, the overarching concern here is that if the NFL has found credible evidence of rape or serious sexual misconduct *all conclusions in this article are moot*. Brown would be done and likely gone from football forever. But after over 6 months of time to investigate it is highly unlikely that they have found that evidence and sat on it during the offseason. They would use the dead time of late February to ban Brown and turn the page on that story before free agency and the draft came around. Obviously it would be highly impertinent for them to step on the toes of those in the civil court process, but they would certainly make it known that their investigation was troubling and that Brown is suspended indefinitely. Since they have issued no new updates in the intervening time it is a good bet that the league has concluded or nearly concluded its investigation and has not found clearly actionable information.

CRIMINAL CASE

After the well-publicized incident in Florida in January, Brown now finds himself formally indicted on the charges stemming from that event. For those who are unfamiliar or need a refresher on what happened, here is a quick summary.

Brown hired a moving truck and driver to move some of his belongings. When the truck driver attempted delivery of Brown’s things Brown reportedly refused to pay. Things then escalated as Brown and his trainer attempted to remove things from the truck on their own. Brown then allegedly entered the cab of the truck, had a physical altercation with the driver, and attempted to grab the keys to the vehicle.

The problem for Brown is that the State of Florida has an unusual law on its books that has ensnared him in a bigger case than he might face in most states in this country. That law is their Felony Burglary law. It is necessary to understand a couple things about Burglary charges to get why it is significant that he is being charged with the more serious felony than a misdemeanor. Whenever the word burglary is used it is easy to assume that someone is being charged with stealing something. That is not the definition of Burglary. Rather, Burglary is defined as entering a domicile or occupied structure through force, stealth, or deception to commit a crime. The reason Burglary is often equated with stealing property is that it is the most common crime that is committed when someone enters a piece of property in an unauthorized way. That crime that is used to charge someone with Burglary is called the “predicate offense”. It is a required element of the offense in order for someone to be charged with Burglary as a felony rather than Criminal Trespass as a misdemeanor. Each state has different laws for these charges, but most are fairly similar when it comes down to the elements of the offense.

The weird parts of Brown’s case, though, are that his predicate offense is assault, and the definition of Burglary in Florida includes not only a domicile or occupied structure, but it also includes a “conveyance”. In simple terms – someone’s car or truck or vehicle. This is a massively important part of Brown’s case. He allegedly assaulted the driver in the cab of his truck so the State was able to make the charge a felony instead of a simple misdemeanor assault (called battery in Florida).

One question that is frequently asked is about why Brown was charged in January but didn’t face formal proceedings until April. That is because of the felony that was filed. In a misdemeanor case the Prosecutor simply approves and files charges and the case begins. But in a felony the charges are filed first, then they proceed to a Preliminary Hearing where the State must establish probable cause for the case to continue to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury then decides whether it is appropriate to bring formal charges and thus indict the defendant. This often takes time because the case must be investigated and then time must be scheduled on the typically busy Grand Jury docket. There is nothing unusual about the delay from January to April as this is normal process. The Grand Jury returned an indictment for Felony Burglary, with misdemeanor charges of Criminal Mischief and Battery.

There is something good, though, that has come from Brown’s arrest on these charges back in January. He plead not guilty to the charges and was released on bond from the court. A normal part of pre-trial release on bond is that there are conditions attached to the bond that the defendant must meet to stay out of jail. Brown has several conditions on him, but the most important one was that he was ordered to undergo mandatory mental health treatment. It is easy for those who don’t deal with mental health issues on a daily business to dismiss the drastic effect this can have on a person’s thought processes and actions, but this would be a mistake. People often attempt to self-medicate with marijuana or alcohol, or they don’t like the way medication makes them feel and they stop taking their necessary drugs. This leads to a gradual decline in mental acuity and makes people act in ways they normally wouldn’t. Often the only way to stop this fall is to be ordered to treatment because the person suffering under the illness cannot see that they need the treatment. To them their actions are reasonable or if not reasonable they are justified in their mind. Brown’s current criminal case was therefore a blessing in disguise. He was ordered to treatment and from all accounts since then his behavior shows that whatever he is doing is having a profound effect. His posts on social media are back to what would be considered “normal” for a person in his position. He is also acting in the best interests of his career. He has hired a new agent, he is working out, and most importantly he has had no brushes with the law or controversies over his behavior.

The legal case, believe it or not, will be positively affected by Brown’s compliance with bond and court ordered treatment while the case has been pending. Additionally, although there are allegations of violence from him in the past, he nevertheless has a clean criminal history and the court will take these important factors into consideration. Another critical piece in processing a criminal charge like this is the disposition of the victim. Did the victim have serious injuries? Is the victim pushing for incarceration or is he amenable to settlement? In this case there have been no reports of serious injury, and it’s highly likely that a rational Brown through his representatives can reach out to the victim and attempt to settle the case.

FANTASY IMPACT

As long as Brown stays on the right path through his mental health treatment he is making a case for being allowed to play in 2020. Why is that the most important part of his situation? Because all other positive outcomes flow from that first important step he took when he was released on bond. Without progression with his treatment he would doubtless have had another incident. Perhaps the most persuasive argument a defense attorney can make in a criminal case like this is to point out to the Prosecutor and the Judge that the client was not acting in their own best interests because of their illness. This makes the court willing to view the two consequences of a conviction – punishment and danger to the community through recidivist behavior – as both falling under the umbrella of treatment being the magic pill. Without knowing the tendencies of this particular court or the Prosecutor on the case, it is likely - as high as 80% - that Brown will be able to resolve the criminal case with a misdemeanor conviction instead of a felony. The conviction would likely result in some probation, continued treatment, and no incarceration.

That just leaves the open civil investigation. It is impossible to know how the league will handle all of this when it concludes. Although there are plenty of educated guesses to make from what has transpired once those guesses are piled on top of each other for an ultimate conclusion there are things that can make the whole pile topple over. If Brown stops treatment none of this analysis will matter. If the victim is upset and pushes the Prosecutor to be tough on Brown. If the league has concrete evidence of sexual misconduct. All of that can make this moot.

But right now, as things stand, Brown is in the best position he’s been in since July of 2019 and his representatives can make the same argument to the NFL that they made to the Judge in the criminal case – Brown is a different person when he’s taking his mental health seriously. This is evident because he is complying with court orders and is staying out of trouble. Recency bias had the fantasy world believing in October, or January, that Brown would never play in the NFL again. That also has people in Dynasty format unloading Brown cheaper than he should be. Now is the time to consider making a move for Brown in keeper or Dynasty formats.

The league is, in some ways, like a court in that they are very likely to consider Brown’s treatment and resulting behavior shift as worthy of a second chance. He has already served a de facto suspension by the league keeping his investigation open and issuing a statement to teams about his eligibility. So when bundling all of this together what can fantasy owners expect the league to do?

Although it may seem hard to see how he could possibly play this year it is more probable than not that he’ll get a chance to suit up in 2020. Once the two outstanding cases are resolved the league may still try to take a bite out of Brown’s season, but the most likely outcome is that his suspension will come in under six games, and likely at four or under. This is partly because he has already been banned from the league since the end of September 2019, but partly because of his tackling of his issues for the last three months.

Brown’s landing spot is one of the bigger mysteries at this point, but that is impossible to analyze until he is linked with some teams. But purely from a talent standpoint and the current progression of his situation Brown is a decent bet to bounce back from his tough year and be a part of the NFL in 2020. Act now or the window may begin to close as the season approaches.