By Jenna Laine
TAMPA, Fla. — In his first statement since leaving the field in the third quarter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ game at the New York Jets on Sunday, Antonio Brown said he was forced to play on an injured ankle that will require surgery, which is why he exited so abruptly.
An MRI on Monday revealed broken bone fragments, a ligament torn from the bone and cartilage loss, the wide receiver said in a lengthy statement released Wednesday night.
Brown also accused the Buccaneers of mischaracterizing his outburst on the field as a “mental health issue,” rather than a refusal to play due to pain.
The Buccaneers did not have any immediate comment to Brown’s statement when reached later Wednesday night.
Brown was on the field for 26 plays before his exit Sunday in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Upset on the sideline, he took off his jersey, pads and undershirt, and he threw his shirt and gloves into the stands. He then dashed across the end zone while both teams were on the field and waved to fans as he went to the locker room.
After the game, Bucs coach Bruce Arians denied having knowledge that Brown was injured, a point he reiterated Monday. Asked if Brown told him he was injured, Arians said, “No.”
However, the wideout’s attorney Sean Burstyn told ESPN that Brown told the training staff and Arians that he felt he was too hurt to continue in the game and that Brown’s ankle had been discussed with the coach and the training staff throughout the week.
Brown said the same in his statement.
“I took a seat on the sideline and my coach came up to me, very upset, and shouted, ‘What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with you?’ I told him, ‘It’s my ankle.’ But he knew that. It was well-documented and we had discussed it,” Brown said. “He then ordered me to get on the field. I said, ‘Coach, I can’t.’ He didn’t call for medical attention. Instead, he shouted at me, ‘YOU’RE DONE!’ while he ran his finger across his throat. Coach was telling me that if I didn’t play hurt, then I was done with the Bucs.”
He added that what happened then triggered him to leave the field.
“I know we were losing to the Jets and that was frustrating for all of us. But I could not make football plays on that ankle,” he said. “Yes, I walked off the field. But there’s a major difference between launching from the line and taking hits, compared to jogging off the field with a rush of emotions going through your mind. I am reflecting on my reaction, but there was a trigger. The trigger was someone telling me that I’m not allowed to feel pain.”
After the game, Arians said Brown was no longer a Buc, which the coach reiterated Wednesday — even though the team has yet to formally release him.
Brown claimed Wednesday that despite cutting ties with him, the Bucs are attempting to dictate his medical care, even though he has already scheduled surgery.
“You can see the bone bulging from the outside. But that must and can be repaired,” he said. “The MRI has been read by two top orthopedic surgeons in NYC, including Dr. Martin O’Malley at Hospital for Special Surgery. Not realizing that I had already scheduled a surgery at HSS, the Bucs ‘ordered’ me under penalty of discipline and with a few hours’ notice to show up to a more junior doctor at HSS for another opinion.”
Brown first suffered the ankle injury in Week 6 and missed five games. He then was suspended for three games after an NFL investigation found that he produced a fake COVID-19 vaccination card.
He returned in Week 15 against the Carolina Panthers, catching 10 passes for 101 receiving yards. But he also aggravated the injury, and as a result, he was a nonparticipant in Thursday and Friday practices last week and was officially questionable leading into the Jets game.
Arians was not at those practices because he was quarantining at home after testing positive for COVID-19, but he was kept abreast of all practices and player statuses.
There was confusion on the extent of the injury from the beginning. Arians said on Dec. 1: “It was more [that it was] a different injury than originally thought — a sprain. There [are] issues in the heel. That’s what he had problems with.” The team, however, was pleased with his rehabilitation.
Brown had multiple significant missteps off the field before signing with Tampa Bay but had not had any incidents with the Bucs prior to what happened Sunday. Arians had called him a “model citizen.”
The coach even voiced support for Brown on Monday and said it was difficult watching him erupt on the sideline.
“It was very hard,” Arians said. “I wish him well. If he needs help, I hope he gets some. It’s very hard. Because I do care about him.
“I care about him a bunch. I hope that he’s OK.”
Brown’s statement in its entirety:
One find as much racism as one is looking for.
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