Antonio Brown has become the most prominent wide receiver in the N.F.L., though not solely for his elite playmaking. Once an unheralded walk-on at Central Michigan, Brown became a seven-time Pro Bowler and a four-time All-Pro selection over the course of nine seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Oakland Raiders and now the New England Patriots.
But that career has been characterized as much by his rankling behavior as by otherworldly catches. And the pace at which Brown has made news for his conduct has accelerated over the past month, with incidents involving a cryogenic chamber, a dispute over a helmet, and trade demands made via social media. This week, a lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault and rape was filed in federal court.
It is unclear if he will be playing in the Patriots’ next game, in Miami against the Dolphins on Sunday — the N.F.L. has begun an investigation — but he practiced on Wednesday.
Here’s how Brown’s career has unfolded:
Brown walks on at Central Michigan, where he plays well enough in relative obscurity, averaging 1,000 yards receiving a season, to get on the radar of the N.F.L.
Brown is not considered to be one of the top receivers in the draft and is taken in the sixth round by the Steelers. In all, 22 receivers were drafted ahead of Brown.
After a quiet rookie season, Brown proves to be a steal, turning into one of the game’s greatest receivers. He makes the Pro Bowl in 2011 as a returner, then six more times in subsequent seasons as a receiver. He leads the league in receptions twice and catches more than 100 passes for more than 1,000 yards six years in a row. But there are a few incidents. In 2012, he is penalized and fined for running into the end zone backward for a touchdown. In 2015, he was fined for a touchdown celebration that involved straddling the goal post, and in 2016 for celebrating by twerking and, three weeks later, for thrusting his pelvis.
Although he continues to catch passes and score touchdowns, including a league-leading 15 in 2018, Brown’s relationships in Pittsburgh take a turn for the worse. He posts a video of a locker room celebration that includes Coach Mike Tomlin making profane remarks about an opponent, violating the league’s social media policy. (It would not be the last time online postings get him into trouble.) In his last year with the Steelers, he feuds with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and ends up sitting out the regular season finale — with a playoff berth potentially on the line — because of a dispute with the team about whether or not his knee was injured and his subsequent absence from practice.
After saying it is time to move on, and openly campaigning to attract teams he would prefer to be traded to, Brown is sent to the Raiders for third- and fifth-round picks. He signs a three-year extension with about $30 million guaranteed.
Brown posts a picture of his badly blistered feet, which are keeping him from practicing during training camp. News emerges that Brown’s feet were injured when he entered a cryogenic therapy chamber, in which temperatures below minus-200 Fahrenheit are supposed to be therapeutic, without proper footwear.
Brown loses a grievance about his helmet. He was still missing practices, in part because he wanted to continue wearing his decade-old helmet, which is no longer approved by the league because of new safety standards. He eventually found a replacement.
After the Raiders fine him $54,000 for missing practices, Brown posts a picture of the letter informing him of the fines online. His caption reads: “When your own team want to hate but there’s no stopping me now devil is a lie.”
Brown then gets into an altercation with the letter’s author, Raiders General Manager Mike Mayock. Reports in several news media outlets suggest that Brown threatened to punch Mayock.
Brown publicly apologizes, leading some to speculate the dispute had blown over. “I’m excited to be a part of the Raiders and see you guys soon,” he said.
Brown posts a video on YouTube that includes what appears to be a recording of a phone conversation with Coach Jon Gruden, who asks Brown if he wants to be a Raider and urges him to “just play football.” Gruden reportedly is amused by the incident.
According to reports, the Raiders, using language in Brown’s contract about behavior and discipline, void the money guaranteed to the receiver. As a result, Brown demands to be released in an Instagram post. The Raiders oblige, leaving them with nothing for the two draft picks they sent to the Steelers.
Within hours, Brown agrees to a one-year deal with the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots that guarantees him around $9 million. Once again it seemed that Brown would go back to making news primarily on the field.
Brown is accused in a lawsuit filed in federal court of sexually assaulting and raping a woman who worked as his trainer in 2017. He denies the allegations through a statement from his lawyers. The league announces plans to investigate the matter.
Brown participates in his first practice with the Patriots.
Following practice, Matthew Slater, a team captain, briefly addresses reporters about the situation.
“Very sensitive manner, and don’t want to minimize it at all,” Slater says. “But that being said, I certainly don’t think that I should be speaking on it, or I’m qualified to speak on it, because I don’t have any knowledge of the situation.”
Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, addresses the issue in an interview with ESPN.
“I’m advising him to let the truth come out,” Rosenhaus says. “I’m advising him to concentrate on football. I’m advising him to cooperate with the Patriots, with the N.F.L., with the N.F.L. Players Association. Antonio and I both strongly believe that these allegations are very serious. In no way do we condone any type of illegal conduct/misbehavior. None of that happened here.”
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office also issues a statement about the incident in terms of whether or not the accusations had been reported. It reads, “As criminal prosecutors, we always encourage all victims of sexual assaults to report these matters to the police for proper investigation. Having reviewed our records, we found no prior police investigative contacts regarding these allegations or these individuals.”
The Steelers release a statement saying the team had no knowledge of the incidents.
Ben Shpigel and Kevin Draper contributed reporting.