What’s the Deal with Antonio Brown? A Mental Health Expert Analyzes his Recent Behavior

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Antonio Brown is undoubtedly one of the most gifted athletes I have seen.

Since he joined the Pittsburgh Steelers, he has become renowned for his on-the-field accolades. For the most part, Brown had stayed out of the media spotlight during his time in Pittsburgh.

However, over the last two years, the façade of Antonio Brown has started to fade.

With each new incident, Brown has been brought to the forefront highlighting a long history of bizarre, outlandish, aggressive and unpredictable behaviors. These behaviors made their way into the public domain starting the summer of 2019.

 

Here are the highlights of Antonio Brown’s antics dating back to July of 2019:

July 30th: Antonio Brown gets his foot frostbitten at a cryogenic-chamber. There were reports and videos of Antonio Brown’s feet, severely injured due to not wearing proper footwear when using a cryogenic chamber for muscle recovery.

 

August 2019: He is accused of not paying people for services, being sued by his former chef. 

Read more on Antonio Brown’s unpaid chef bill of $38k.

 

August/September 2019: Brown states that he is not going to play if he isn’t able to use his old helmet. This was after the NFL had instituted a new helmet criterion to make players safer. However, Antonio Brown still wanted the NFL to allow him to use his old helmet. He was so passionate about it that he filed a grievance against the NFL—for not allowing him to wear a less safe helmet.

 

September 2019:  The Oakland Raiders fined him for not attending team-related workouts and conduct detrimental to the team. Antonio posted a picture of the fine letter on social media insinuating that the organization was against him.

Antonio Brown shares the Raiders fine on his personal Instagram account.
This image was pulled from Antonio Brown’s Instagram stories in September, 2019.

 

September 2019: After Antonio was fined—again—for his continued misconduct and posting his fine, he confronted the Raiders General Manager after a practice. The confrontation escalated to where Antonio Brown had to be restrained after threatening to hit him in the face.

 

September 2019: Brown offers an emotional apology one day after he was threatened with suspension for interaction with GM. This apology was given in private, and it was reported as heartfelt and sincere.

Read the ESPN report here.

 

September 2019: Raiders coach John Gruden called Antonio Brown to attempt to settle some of the tension. Without his knowledge or permission, Brown post the private phone call with John Gruden on social media.

 

September 2019: After his conflict with Raiders GM, Mike Mayock Brown’s contract was altered by the Raiders. He was told he would only make money based on the games he played for the Raiders. This restructure motivated him to request a release from the Raiders on social media.

 

September 2019: After Brown was released by the Raiders, he posted a video of him running around his back yard celebrating his release.  A day later, he signed with the New England Patriots.

 

September 2019: Antonio played one game for the New England Patriots. During his short spell at New England, a former trainer of his came forward with allegations against Brown citing unwanted sexual advances.

 

September 2019: Brown announced on social media that he has re-enrolled at Central Michigan University and that he plans to take classes. People viewed this step as a positive, and much needed, change in trajectory for the athlete.

Antonio Brown rerolls into Central Michigan University.
This image was pulled from Antonio Brown’s Instagram stories on Monday, September 23rd, 2019.

 

Current: Brown continually says he will no longer play in the NFL ever again. More often than not, these tweets are followed by him retracting the said statement.

 

After his release from the Patriots, Brown has had numerous outbursts on all of his social media accounts. These outbursts include him shaming the Patriots organization, the NFL, and anyone who he deems to be “against him.”

 

January 2020: In a live stream on his Instagram account, Brown is seen yelling at his child’s mother and police officers. Antonio Brown posted the video to attempting to show and gain proof of his mistreatment by police, taking a shot at the NFL in the video as well.

 

Now That You’re Caught Up, Let’s Discuss the Psychology of Antonio Brown and His Mental Health

Make no mistake, the last few months have shown us with an individual who is struggling. The stories of Brown not paying people, accusations of unwanted sexual advances, threatening people with violence and displays of aggression have been consistent.

There has been a growing contingent of media, former athletes and friends that have voiced concerns for Antonio Brown.

From my perspective as a mental health professional, here are the behaviors that justify the most concern.

 

“It’s everybody else’s fault.”

Whether he is responding to the allegations of rape, money not being paid for services, teams cutting him or altering his contract, he externalizes his behaviors. This is a common defense mechanism and one that everyone tends to use to some extent.

In certain situations, it better serves us to blame others for the consequences of our decisions. For example, after his second fine from the Raiders that led to his contract restructure, he labeled the organization as “haters.”

This is a perfect example of his inability or unwillingness to acknowledge his role in the conflict and fine. Externalizing can be a dangerous and self-deprecating defense mechanism if we do not address it.

By allowing external circumstances to dictate our behavior, we relinquish control and responsibility for them. 

 

Antonio Brown is his own worst enemy.

One of the most alarming behaviors that I’ve observed is Brown’s complete lack of awareness.

He seems to be blind to how his behaviors and actions affect others. On numerous occasions, he has attacked both the NFL and the Patriots for what they did. It seems he is not aware that, at best, these behaviors are only further tarnishing his reputation.

He utilizes his social media as a platform for voicing his grievances, though he does not seem to recognize that the way he communicates often reinforces the very idea he is fighting against; that “business is booming” and there is nothing wrong with him but with others.

He continues to sabotage what he voices as his goal at times, which is to return to the NFL. His most recent Instagram live video is a perfect example. Based on his report in the video, he felt the need to record the officers and the mother of his children to document their wrongdoing towards him.

My perspective and the general consensus is the opposite. We see a person who is vile, demeaning, and unable to be reached in a sensible fashion. Worst of all, he’s exhibiting these behaviors in front of his children.

 

Antonio Brown has roller coaster relationships.

Whether its former teammates, media, or former employees, Brown often seems infatuated and glorifies any person organization that sides with him.

That said, the slightest misstep (or perceived misstep) can propel them to the opposite end of his spectrum. Often times when this happens, Brown views actions in solidarity rather than contextually. For example, Antonio Brown hailed the Patriots as a part of God’s plan after he was signed. He portrayed them as the ultimate franchise.

That was, until, he was cut after allegations of sexual abuse arose. He immediately began to tarnish the organization, their owner and the decision to sign with them in the first place.

It appears that Brown has difficulty finding nuance in relationships, meaning that based on an action or comment, someone is either all good or all bad.

Viewing imperfect people as all good or bad based on each decision they make is a huge barrier for healthy relationships.

 

AB is reckless and impulsive.

Brown shows considerable difficulty with managing his impulses, appearing to react without thoughts of consequences.

Over the months that he has been out of the NFL, he has used social media to slander others, express his opinions or even vent about others. He has been captured on video destroying a hotel room and throwing furniture into the pool.

Recently he posted a video of himself screaming profanities at the mother of one of his children. At first glance, it is inexplicable that someone would volunteer that information for the public. However, impulsivity is often born of intense emotions that by-pass our judgment.

Therefore, these emotions that we carry can overcome our ability to make decisions that are less likely to lead to consequences. 

 

Antonio needs to be the center of attention.

Since he was young, Antonio always showed promise. He was often given attention because of his athletic abilities.

The problem arose when he was no longer receiving attention and praise for his on-the-field performance. It appears that he is willing to get attention—whether positive or negative—in whatever way he can.

He continually voices that the NFL needs him, that no one else can replace him. This is partially true. The NFL does not need him, but he can’t be replaced. The attention he is getting is inherently negative which appears to satisfy his need for any sort of attention.

His need for attention seems to limit his understanding that his athletic prowess was never in question, it’s his actions that are far removed from football create the biggest barrier for his return. 

 

Just like his playing career, he has been consistent.

When people report their symptoms to me, one of the most important aspects is the frequency at which a symptom is experienced. If a symptom is experienced infrequently (i.e., feeling sad) this is a typical emotional response. However, when, feelings of sadness are persistent for weeks, this may be an indication that there is an underlying cause.

Our brain processes negative and positive experiences by taking useful information and storing it while discarding information that is not needed. So when a behavior continues, despite its negative consequences, it is clear our brain is not able to accurately process the information.

The more consistent these behaviors are, the more concerning they are. 

It is important to mention, that I have never met or spoke with Antonio Brown. Therefore, this piece is not meant to diagnose him.

However, the behaviors listed above are so significant that they are disruptive across all domains of his life.  The intent of this piece is to bring to the forefront that the concern for Antonio is real and justified. 

This is not a case of overexposure by the media, but rather a person’s public portrayal of struggle and despair.  These behaviors are not random. They are behaviors that were learned and may have been adaptive at one point in his life.

Unconfirmed reports mention that he struggled with poverty as a young person. Stress, lack of connection, lack of attention or support in childhood can certainly develop into these behaviors that he is displaying as an adult.  

In summary, the amount of turmoil that Antonio Brown is going through is justifiably concerning, from a mental health perspective.

While I do not know specifics, the continued self-destructive behaviors indicate that he may be struggling far more than we anticipated.

So, do we laugh at his antics, jokes, and videos—or grow concerned at his continued destruction?

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