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 an All-Pro selection through 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 with 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, the most serious charge Brown has ever faced.
It is unclear if he will be playing in the Patriots’ next game, in Miami against the Dolphins — the N.F.L. has begun an investigation — but the team said he would be on the practice field Wednesday.
Here’s how Brown’s career has unfolded:
Brown walks on at Central Michigan, where he plays well enough, averaging 1,000 yards receiving a season, in relative obscurity to get on the radar of the N.F.L.
Brown is not considered to be one of the top dozen or so receivers in the draft and is taken in the sixth round by the Steelers.
After a quiet rookie season, Brown winds up being 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 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 goalpost.
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 got him into trouble.) In his last year with the Steelers, he feuds with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, leading the team to bench him for the rest of the regular season and playoffs.
After saying it is time to move on, 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 the feet were injured when Brown entered a cryogenic therapy chamber, in which temperatures below minus-200 Fahrenheit are supposed to be therapeutic, without the 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 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, 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, because of the fines and discipline, Brown’s $30 million in guaranteed money is under threat. In the morning, he 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 signs a one-year deal worth $15 million with the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. 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 has denied the allegations through a statement from his lawyers. The league announces plans to investigate the matter.
Brown is expected to participate in his first practice with the Patriots. “I’m advising him to let the truth come out,” his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said in an interview with ESPN. “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 Steelers released a statement saying the team had no knowledge of the incidents. The district attorney in Allegheny County, Pa., Stephen Zappala, said his office, which prosecutes crimes in the Pittsburgh area, will look into the allegations in light of the civil suit.
Ben Shpigel contributed reporting.