The Antonio Brown saga of 2019, which had been packed full of surprises and was a source of social-media entertainment, is no longer amusing. In a civil lawsuit filed in September in the Southern District of Florida, the now-former Patriots wide receiver was accused of exploitation, sexual assault and rape.
The plaintiff, 28-year-old Britney Taylor, alleges the 31-year-old Brown sexually assaulted her on three occasions in 2017 and 2018, with the third incident escalating to rape.
The Patriots, who signed Brown to a one-year contract hours after the Raiders released him in the first week of September, acknowledged the lawsuit in a statement and noted the NFL had informed the team it was investigating the alleged incidents. New England eventually released Brown.
An NFL spokesman told The Boston Globe after Brown's release that the league's investigation will continue even though Brown is no longer on a team. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters on Dec. 11 (per NFL.com) that the investigation had not yet been completed.
Brown filed a countersuit against Taylor on Nov. 20. He denied Taylor's allegations and reiterated his claim that their sexual relationship was consensual at all times, ESPN reported. Brown requested a jury trial, per ESPN's report.
Below is everything you need to know about the Brown case.
What we know about the lawsuit against Antonio Brown
Taylor, a gymnast from Memphis, Tenn., met Brown in 2010 when the two were students at Central Michigan. She was paired with Brown as bible study partners in the college’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes group. Three years later, Brown, then with the Steelers, contacted Taylor and asked her to send him a revealing photo via social media, according to the lawsuit. Taylor refused, and the two fell out of touch.
In 2017, Brown contacted Taylor, who had opened a gym, to request training ahead of the upcoming NFL season. Taylor agreed to help, and their arrangement included Taylor flying on occasion to Pittsburgh and Florida, where Brown had homes. According to the lawsuit, Taylor "never dated or had an interest in any romantic relationship with Brown. Their relationship, as far as Ms. Taylor believed and behaved, was that of a ‘brother-sister’ type."
The following is the list of allegations as a result of what occurred from that point through 2018, directly from the lawsuit's introduction:
This case is about how Antonio Brown — a highly successful wide receiver in the NFL — exploited, sexually assaulted, and raped his former trainer Britney Taylor. Brown preyed on Ms. Taylor’s kindness and her religious devotion, casting himself as a person equally dedicated to his religious faith and someone she could trust. In reality, he used manipulation and false promises to lure her into his world, and once there, he sexually assaulted and raped her. These heinous acts have inflicted severe and dramatic damage on Ms. Taylor, irreparably harming her.
In June 2017, Brown sexually assaulted Ms. Taylor twice while they were together for training sessions. First, Brown exposed himself and kissed Ms. Taylor without her consent. Later that month, Brown, while positioned behind Ms. Taylor, began masturbating near her without her knowledge and ejaculated on her back. Ms. Taylor realized what occurred when she felt a wet spot soak through her clothing. Later, in astonishingly profane and angry text messages, Brown bragged about the incident to her.
Shocked and deeply embarrassed by this assault and his degrading messages, Ms. Taylor cut off her working relationship with Brown.
However, several months later, Brown reached out to Ms. Taylor, expressing contrition, begging forgiveness and pleading with her to train him again. Ms. Taylor was hesitant but eventually agreed, swayed by his assurance that he would cease any sexual advances.
Brown’s assurances proved false.
On May 20, 2018, Brown cornered Ms. Taylor, forced her down onto a bed, pushed her face into the mattress, and forcibly raped her. Ms. Taylor tried to resist him, but Brown was too strong and physically overpowered her. She screamed and cried throughout the entire rape, repeatedly shouting "no" and "stop." Brown refused and penetrated her.
Brown’s assaults and rape have severely traumatized Ms. Taylor. Ms. Taylor has suffered near-daily panic attacks and suicidal ideations.
Ms. Taylor brings this action to recover compensatory and punitive damages for the significant harm Brown caused by this brutal and sadistic misconduct.
Who is Britney Taylor?
Taylor's lawsuit against Brown describes her as a "world-class gymnast." Born in Memphis, she started gymnastics at age 3. While in high school, she reached "elite" status, which according to the lawsuit made her eligible to compete in international competitions. The lawsuit also states Taylor "will be inducted into the inaugural Tennessee Gymnastics Hall of Fame" this year.
In 2010, Taylor spent her freshman year of college at Central Michigan, but the next year she transferred to LSU, from which she later graduated.
In 2016, Taylor opened a gymnastics training center in Memphis "for predominantly African-American girls."
According to the lawsuit, Taylor "succeeded in (gymnastics) even though she often worked with unsupportive and verbally abusive coaches and was almost always the lone African-American gymnast on her team
and at meets." It states that, with her gym, Taylor "wanted to create a safe and supportive environment for young girls of color to thrive in the sport of gymnastics — something that was often missing for her when she was a young girl."
What is Antonio Brown's defense team saying?
Brown's lawyer, Darren Heitner, issued a statement claiming the receiver "denies each and every allegation in the lawsuit." On Twitter, Heitner said "Brown will leave no stone unturned and will aggressively defend himself, including exercising all of his rights in countersuits."
Brown claims he was approached by Taylor in 2017, not the other way around, as Taylor alleges, after he signed a Steelers contract making him the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL. Brown says Taylor asked him to invest $1.6 million in her business project and then cut off communications when he refused her request.
Then, Brown says, Taylor contacted him in 2018 and offered her training services. Per Heitner's statement: "The accuser engaged Mr. Brown in a consensual personal relationship. Any sexual interaction with Mr. Brown was entirely consensual. The accuser not only traveled to Mr. Brown’s residences on multiple occasions, she traveled from Tennessee to Florida and returned at 2 a.m. to Mr. Brown’s residence ten days after the alleged assault. The accuser continued communications with Mr. Brown throughout 2018, and even asked Mr. Brown for tickets to a Pittsburgh Steelers football game in the winter of 2018."
Brown claims he is the victim of a "money grab." Heitner's statement says Taylor "has continually posted photographs of Mr. Brown on her social media in an effort to financially benefit from his celebrity."
As for the alleged rape in May 2018, Brown claims the two had consensual sex:
"In May 2018, Mr. Brown’s accuser invited herself to join Mr. Brown and his friends, who were patrons at Miami adult entertainment clubs. After several hours of partying, Mr. Brown and his friends called it a night. Instead of leaving by herself, as she had arrived, and returning to her hotel, Mr. Brown’s accuser solicited Mr. Brown to join her and return to Mr. Brown’s residence where the two engaged in consensual sex."
According to ESPN, Brown before the lawsuit was filed refused to sign a settlement agreement that would have paid Taylor more than $2 million to end the claim. Those settlement discussions began in April, according to the report.
Will the NFL eventually suspend Antonio Brown?
According to The Washington Post, the NFL was giving "serious consideration" to placing Brown on the commissioner exempt list while Brown was still a member of the Patriots. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell essentially would have put Brown on temporary paid leave while the league completed its investigation into the accusations against him. Brown would not have been able to practice with the Patriots or play in games while he was on the list.
Goodell can only place Brown on the list if Brown is on an NFL roster.
The fact that Brown is accused in a civil lawsuit and not being charged with any crimes means there is a lower burden of proof on Taylor in court — "a preponderance of the evidence" vs. "beyond a reasonable doubt." In terms of potential discipline from the NFL, though, the league does not need to see criminal charges or a conviction to keep Brown off the field if he signs with another team.
According to the league's personal conduct policy, Goodell can place Brown on the commissioner exempt list if "an investigation leads the commissioner to believe that a player may have violated" the policy. Prohibited conduct in the policy includes "assault and/or battery, including sexual assault or other sex offenses."
In order to suspend Brown as a result of its investigation, the NFL needs "credible evidence" to establish that he violated the policy. This could be tricky. Again, because this is a civil case rather than a criminal case, there is a lesser burden of proof, and evidence of a violation could be difficult to demonstrate.
As a comparison, Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann cited the NFL's decision to suspend Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games in 2017 for domestic violence-related conduct "despite Elliott's denial and questions about evidence." On the other hand, Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill was not disciplined by the NFL this year despite a verbal warning he directed at his fiancee that could have been deemed a violation of the policy.
Taylor reportedly has cooperated with the NFL in the investigation. Brown met with NFL personnel in November. Goodell gave an update on Dec. 11.
"They've still not completed the investigation. Our investigators did [but] I did not meet with Antonio. They have more work to do with following up on that and I'll get an update when they have more information," Goodell said, per NFL.com.
As for Brown's playing status for the remainder of the season, a placement on the commissioner exempt list would be indefinite. If the NFL ultimately decides Brown violated the personal conduct policy via "sexual assault involving physical force," then the minimum suspension would be six games without pay.
While Goodell has previously placed players under investigation for criminal acts on the list, it has never been used for a player who is a defendant in a civil suit.
On Sept. 16, Sports Illustrated published its findings after conducting interviews with former acquaintances of Brown and reviewing police and court documents. SI learned a second woman has alleged sexual misconduct by Brown. According to the report, Brown is also accused in multiple lawsuits of failing to pay former employees.
Via SI: "In total, the stories of those who have encountered Brown paint a portrait of a superstar athlete living a rockstar lifestyle, of a man who rose from poverty and anonymity in Miami to stardom and wealth on a national stage, only to make a habit of insulting, attacking and betraying people he saw as being beneath his station."
SI reported that the second accuser, whose name has not been disclosed, received "threatening" text messages from Brown in response to SI's initial report. The woman told SI she received a group text message that appeared to come from the same phone number Brown provided to her in 2017. The text chain, with four other phone numbers on it, included photos of her and her children, with the person she believes is Brown encouraging others in the group to investigate the woman.
One of the woman's lawyers, Lisa J. Banks, wrote a letter to the NFL to inform it of the text messages. According to The Boston Globe, Banks wrote that the woman "is understandably frightened by these text messages, which are clearly intended to threaten and intimidate her."
The Patriots, who initially took a "wait and see" approach and allowed the league to conduct its investigation, decided to cut Brown with the text messages reportedly being the reason.