Antonio Brown Is Not The Villain in His Own Story
Originally published in partnership with The 33rd Team
When Antonio Brown walked off the field midway through the third quarter of Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, many media members and fans suggested that Brown’s season, and career, were likely over.
But Brown’s career has seemingly been on life support before, and there are very likely many teams around the NFL having a discussion about whether or not it would be worth it to inquire about bringing him on to the team. After all, there is no doubt that he is a Hall of Fame-caliber player at his peak.
To achieve some type of deeper understanding surrounding the situation, we reached out to Dr. Scott Goldman, of Athletic Intelligence Measures, who has significant experience working with elite athletes and helping professional sports organizations gain a better understanding of their athletes’ actions and the rationale behind them.
Dr. Goldman has never personally treated Antonio Brown, and he would not be able to discuss his mental health if he had, as it would be a violation of confidentiality and privacy. But Dr. Goldman was able to give an important perspective of how he helped navigate situations with historical parallels in the past.
Q: When you saw the news that Antonio Brown had walked off the field midway through his game on Sunday, what were your thoughts?
Dr. Goldman: When I saw it, my initial thought was that this is an event that people are going to talk about and express a lot of opinions about despite the fact that very few people will actually know what’s really going on.
Every media outlet and fan is going to have a statement about it and try to interpret it, but few are going to try to understand all the angles of it.
Q: How important is it to understand the “Why” behind Brown’s actions in this situation?
Dr. Goldman: One of the things that I’ve seen and admired from the wisest athletic directors, coaches and front office executives I’ve been around is their want and need to hear all aspects and angles of the story.
There are two things that I do to help promote an understanding of the situation when events like the one that unfolded this past weekend occur. The first is making sure that people within an organization know that no one is a villain in their own story, so we should try to understand the event from multiple perspectives, especially the perspective of the individual acting out. Looking at the event from multiple perspectives breeds empathy for the individual as well as everyone who is impacted by the individual’s behavior. The second is understanding that all behavior has meaning. If you understand the “why” behind a person’s actions, you better understand the person.
Motivation, purposefulness, and passion are integral in this type of situation.
Antonio Brown has been expressing himself with behaviors like what we witnessed this weekend historically, but they come from somewhere. They are not just a spontaneous burst of action, even though it may appear that way on the surface. To truly understand an individual, including someone like Antonio Brown, is to understand the meaning behind their behaviors.
Q: You’ve suggested that there’s a reason behind every behavior. Can you elaborate on what that means and how it might apply to this situation?
Dr. Goldman: If you look at the shoes you are wearing right now, are they your lucky shoes? Are they your most comfortable shoes? Are they just the shoes that were closest to the door as you were running out of the room?
You engage in a decisive behavior about putting those shoes on and, and there’s meaning behind that action. Now, your shoe selection is probably not indicative of your soul and may be of less significance than a lot of other behaviors you engage in. But in a similar parallel, when I witness someone like Antonio Brown do what he did, I’m thinking to myself, “There’s meaning behind that. He’s sending a message. He is expressing himself. So, I start by asking- what message is he sending and why?”
When I’ve worked with athletes that have gotten into trouble, I start by letting them know, “I think you’re trying to say something. I think you’re trying to convey a message. Help me understand what you want others to hear.” Then I sit back and listen. At our core, most people want to be heard. The risky or combustible behavior often stems from when someone feels like they are not heard, so they have to become metaphorically louder. Taking an empathic approach and understanding the experience from their lens becomes the foundation of our relationship and nucleus of our work.”
Q: If you were advising a team that was considering signing Antonio Brown, this season or next season, what are a few things you would need to feel comfortable with before giving your personal ‘OK’ on the signing?
Dr. Goldman: Rather than me giving some stamp of approval, I see my role as the sport psychologist is about asking questions and providing expertise so that the team feels they are making a well-informed decision. So, the first question I would like the team to process would be, ‘Is the juice worth the squeeze?’ Do the potential benefits outweigh the probable costs? And, what is the likelihood of gaining said benefits? What is the likelihood of incurring said costs?
The next question thread would include — ‘Do we have a stable and healthy enough environment for us to fold in this player who is capable of being combustible? What resources do we have to increase the likelihood of this generating a successful outcome? For example, how stable/secure is our locker room? Can player leadership manage the wobble of inserting a potentially disruptive player? Do we have any mentors in the building who could serve as a guide?’
There is benefit to revisiting the old adage of severing the toe to save the foot when it comes to team management. Sometimes, you must decide, in what ways does the addition impact the milieu? And, in what ways does the subtraction impact the milieu?
A front office executive once told me, ‘Player X is like a fire. He can save the family by heating our home through winter or, if left unattended, he can destroy us by burning our house down to cinders. So, we need to be careful in managing and navigating the relationship before we invite him in.’