The N.F.L. on Friday suspended wide receiver Antonio Brown for eight regular-season games for his role in a January dispute with a moving company employee, for which he pleaded no contest to burglary and battery charges and received two years probation. Brown was also penalized for sending threatening texts to a woman who accused him of sexual misconduct. The suspension was first reported by The Washington Post and was confirmed in a statement by the league.
Brown still faces an investigation into accusations that he sexually assaulted his former trainer in 2017 and 2018. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in South Florida, where Brown has a home, remains open and the receiver could still face additional penalties pending its outcome. He has denied the accusations of sexual assault.
Under the terms of the N.F.L.’s suspension, Brown will also have to participate in a counseling and treatment program. Any additional violations of the N.F.L.’s personal conduct policy “will likely result in more significant discipline.”
Brown will not appeal his suspension, according to his agent, Ed Wasielewski.
A seven-time Pro Bowl selection while with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown, 32, is an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team. If he is signed before the start of the regular season, he could take part in his club’s preseason activities, would start his suspension on Sept. 5. and could return after the team’s eighth game. If he is unsigned, he would be eligible to play after the eighth week of the season.
Brown was once considered one of the league’s most prolific and popular players — known for his penalty-inducing touchdown celebrations and a season on the reality TV competition “Dancing With the Stars” — but his career has been in a tailspin since he walked out on the Steelers in 2018.
Pittsburgh traded him to the Raiders for two draft picks in March 2019, but Oakland released him that September, after a tumultuous training camp. The New England Patriots picked him up, but after Brown lashed out against another woman who, in a Sports Illustrated story, accused him of a separate incident of sexual misconduct, the Patriots let him go. Brown competed in one game with the Patriots, scoring a touchdown.
The suspension, which was announced by the N.F.L.’s special counsel for conduct, Todd Jones, comes as the league remains under scrutiny for how it has handled cases involving domestic abuse, sexual assault and harassment.
Brown’s case is unusual partly because he has tried to defend himself on social media. Since being released in 2019, he has said at least twice that he plans to retire from football. He has also picked fights with his employers, most notably the Raiders, who released him after a series of incidents during the off-season and training camp last year, including a dispute over the type of helmet he could wear.
In December 2019 and January 2020, Brown used social media to document domestic disputes with the mother of his children, during which police were called to his house. Brown was arrested and charged with burglary, battery and criminal mischief in late January after a dispute with a moving company employee over pay. He pleaded no contest and received two years probation, with no travel restrictions.
Despite his troubles off the field, other prominent players have embraced him. Brown worked out with Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in separate practices, and with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, who played with Brown in 2019.
Brown also worked out with Lamar Jackson, the star quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, who this week publicly lobbied for the team to sign the receiver. Brown’s cousin, Marquise Brown, was a standout rookie receiver for the team in the 2019 season.
Since 2014, when the N.F.L. was heavily criticized for the uneven way it had handled domestic violence accusations against its players, the league has sought to strengthen its investigation department, adding former prosecutors and specialists in sexual abuse. The league no longer relies exclusively on the findings of law enforcement to determine whether to suspend a player.
The league has suspended players after they have been on paid leave. For example, Kareem Hunt, who was caught on video striking a woman in February 2018, was suspended for eight games. Josh Brown, who admitted to the police that he had abused his wife, was initially suspended for one game in 2016. After additional evidence was revealed, he was suspended with pay in 2017 while the league investigated the accusations against him.
In other cases, the league suspended players after they were charged with domestic abuse, sexual assault and other violent crimes.
In Antonio Brown’s case, N.F.L. investigators have examined accusations made in a civil suit by his former trainer. In the suit, the trainer accused Brown of sexually assaulting her twice during training sessions in June 2017. She ended her working relationship with Brown, the lawsuit says, but several months later, when he contacted her to apologize, she relented. She was, according to the lawsuit, “swayed by his assurance that he would cease any sexual advances.”
Then, the lawsuit says, on May 20, 2018, Brown forced her onto a bed, pushed her face into the mattress and “forcibly” raped her.
A statement from Brown’s lawyer characterized the lawsuit as motivated by money. The statement also mentioned at least one instance when the two had consensual sex, adding that “any sexual interaction with Mr. Brown was entirely consensual.”
Brown was not charged criminally, and both Brown and his accuser, through their lawyers, said they would cooperate with the league’s investigation, which began after the suit was filed on Sept. 11 last year. N.F.L. representatives spoke with the woman in a meeting five days later that reportedly lasted 10 hours. The league’s investigation remains open in part because the case is still in court.
The Patriots, who said in a statement that they strongly condemned domestic violence, owed Brown a $9 million signing bonus that was reportedly reduced to $5 million after a settlement.