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The Patriots wanted a cheap Pro Bowler, but the team didn't want to actually confront what signing Antonio Brown entailed.

How do we know this? Because grumpy Patriots Coach Bill Belichick couldn't even weather a few measly questions about the wide receiver at his reluctant Friday news conference. Instead, he acted as though he was being treated unfairly and walked out.

It's about accountability. And Belichick wasn't up to it.

To be fair, the most disturbing allegations against Brown had not yet been made when the Patriots initially signed him after the Raiders had enough. He was merely a difficult knucklehead, but Belichick played Brown his first week with the team, after some very disturbing allegations -- including rape -- were made by a former trainer.

So for a few hours, thousands of fans cheered Brown in his comeback, and sportswriters detailed the chemistry between the sixth-round quarterback and his sixth-round receiver as though it were the story. Not that once again a team had put hands over ears and hummed "lalalalalala" at serious allegations.

Last week, a woman who contracted to paint a mural of the NFL star in his home alleged Brown came up behind her naked with only a small hand towel to cover his genitals. After that, Sports Illustrated, in a rash of excellent reporting, published harassing texts that Brown sent the woman that included photos of her children.

The league takes steps forward in so many ways, but the way these stories play out is such a visible step back.

You want to take the "on to the Jets" route instead of analyzing a loss or a win? Fine, but if your owner -- and Robert Kraft is currently under investigation for paying for sex from women at a massage parlor -- signs a troubled man who is later accused of rape and harassment, your job is to answer those questions like an adult who represents an NFL team.

It's a story. Answer the questions, Bill. What you say on these matters actually has more importance than who is starting today.

By slinking out, Belichick refused to give serious allegations the thought and measure they deserve. This dismissiveness speaks volumes. Let's put it in terms the NFL might understand. It shows a lack of respect for the gravity of rape and harassment. Even when they are raised as allegations.

Treating those questions like impertinent strategy-seeking on game day is case in point why NFL teams are so bad at handling these issues.

The Patriots, with a statement, cut Brown bloodlessly later in the day.

"The New England Patriots are releasing Antonio Brown. We appreciate the hard work of many people over the past 11 days, but we feel that it is best to move in a different direction at this time."

Many people worked hard to what? Justify the unjustifiable? Figure out a public relations strategy?

Not all the blame in this case is reserved for the Patriots. It could have been most any team. And the league. The NFL will not consider placing Brown on the commissioner's exempt list unless he signs with another team.

"As long as Mr. Brown is a free agent, placement on the Commissioner's exempt list is not appropriate," a league statement reads. "If he is signed by a club, such placement may become appropriate at any time depending on the status of the investigation."

So now the damaged player is actually cheaper and a better value for NFL teams. That's right, the league is actually incentivizing a team to take a chance on a player with rape and harassment allegations.

The league has yet to interview Brown.

As you can see from the texts attributed to Brown in Sports Illustrated, his defense appears to be that women are just out for money. It's the go-to smear for any woman making a claim against a rich and powerful man.

Brown's agent Drew Rosenhaus said Brown is "looking forward to his next opportunity in the NFL."

Does anyone doubt that's not a possibility? Until Brown changes his last name to Kaepernick, expect that some team is out there doing what they can later claim is "due diligence."

Sports on 09/22/2019

Print Headline: Brown proof that Pats, NFL don't get it

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