We all want to go out with that perfect ending, a chance to put an exclamation mark on a career no one dreamed would happen but you.
But few of us outside the sports arena ever get that opportunity, which is why we need to savor those wild last moments of Antonio Brown’s NFL career.
Brown’s dramatic exit Sunday during the third quarter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win over the New York Jets left some laughing, others grimacing and all of us shaking our heads in disbelief.
Did that really happen? In the middle of the game? Is this how it’s going to be, 2022?
Armchair psychologists on Twitter quickly made their instant diagnoses, ranging from stark raving mad to bipolar. Some theorized Brown is affected by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), using video of a brutal knockout hit to the head by former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the 2015 playoffs as evidence.
CTE can’t be diagnosed in patients until after they have died, and hopefully Brown has a long life ahead of him. Kansas City Chiefs receiver Daurice Fountain was among those who found it disturbing that Brown was being ridiculed.
“To all the people making fun of the AB situation is mad lame,” he tweeted. “Mental illness & CTE is REAL and unfortunately it’s a real reality for a lot of us in this business. Instead of making fun of him and chasing clout, let’s figure out a way to give him the HELP he needs.”
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, who like coach Bruce Arians has enabled Brown’s behavior in the past, also asked for empathy for his friend.
Mental health awareness is a topic that only recently became an acceptable conversation in the winning-is-the-only-thing world of professional sports, thanks in part to outspoken athletes such as tennis star Naomi Osaka, gymnast Simone Biles and NBA player Kevin Love, who have publicly discussed their feelings of anxiety or depression.
But we don’t know if Brown is worthy of the same kind of compassion. Until he publicly explains the reason for the stunning outburst — or one of his “friends” leaks his thoughts to the media — we can only guess as to what was going on in Brown’s head when he decided to take off his jersey and pads, throw a T-shirt and gloves into the stands, flash the peace sign and run through the end zone on his way to TikTok immortality.
I’m not a psychologist, and the only one I’ve spent any real time with is Dr. Robert Hartley, the TV character played by Bob Newhart in his eponymous sitcom in the 1970s. So I can’t speculate on whether Brown is crazy in the old-fashioned sense of just being “nuts” or is suffering from real mental issues that are no laughing matter.
Considering Brown’s checkered history, including his recent suspension for using a fake vaccination card, it’s difficult to summon empathy for his personal “struggles.”
Either way, the now-viral “Brown Out” (or was it AB’s “Vaxx-It”?) will go down as the quintessential take-this-job-and-shove-it moment for the COVID-19 pandemic, during which a record number of Americans have left their jobs in the last two years. Most people are fully clothed when quitting, but few have six-pack abs like Brown to show off.
Athletes quitting in-game is nothing new. Carlos Zambrano famously quit during a Chicago Cubs game in Atlanta in 2011, packing his stuff and leaving the clubhouse and telling the team trainer to inform manager Mike Quade he was quitting.
But Zambrano had second thoughts and had a friend smuggle his clothes back into the clubhouse locker late that night in an attempt to “unretire.” Big Z eventually returned to baseball in 2012 after being traded to the Miami Marlins.
One of my favorite in-game resignations occurred on July 30, 1995, when Chicago White Sox designated hitter John Kruk called it quits after singling in his first at-bat against the Orioles in Baltimore.
Overweight and a chain smoker, the 34-year-old Kruk finished his 10-year career with a lifetime batting average of .300 with the hit. Kruk told Sox teammate Ozzie Guillen: “I don’t want to be embarrassed. When they get handicapped players to come out here, I can play again.”
Kruk hobbled to first base, went into the dugout after the inning, said his final goodbyes to his teammates, got in a car with his parents that was packed up with his clothes and drove home to West Virginia.
No one in the media was made aware of Kruk’s decision until after the game, by which time he was long gone. Manager Terry Bevington told us it was planned all along, and the Sox released a statement from Kruk that began: “The desire to compete at this level is gone. When that happens, it’s time to go.”
That moment comes for every athlete, though sometimes it’s less about lacking “the desire to compete” and more about reality hitting you squarely in the face. When the news hit Wrigley Field before a Cubs game in 2013 that a former teammate who had been traded and demoted to Triple A decided to retire after a rough outing, one of the Cubs pitchers quipped: “Retire from what?”
When we think of memorable exits in sports, naturally we turn to the famous farewell of Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams.
“Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” was the headline of John Updike’s New Yorker article on Williams’ final game in 1960, a classic piece of sports writing detailing that September afternoon at Fenway Park, when Williams homered in the last at-bat of his Hall of Fame career.
Updike described how Williams ignored Red Sox fans’ chants of “We want Ted” as he returned to the dugout after the home run, refusing even to tip his cap.
“But immortality is nontransferable,” Updike wrote. “The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he refused. Gods do not answer letters.”
But the game wasn’t over. The Red Sox had one more road series, so the cheering fans didn’t know for sure they were witnessing Williams’ final game. It wasn’t until the car ride home that Updike heard the news on the radio that Williams was not accompanying the team for the final series. Updike ended his essay with this: “He had met the little death that awaits athletes. He had quit.”
Unfortunately, we no longer have Updike around to chronicle the day Brown bid the Bucs adieu, but we do have social media and sports debate shows on ESPN, Fox and NFL Network to sum things up in acceptable hot-take fashion.
Rubbernecking is always rampant whenever Brown attempts career suicide, and this time he managed to hijack news coverage of one of the biggest weeks of the NFL season. And his resignation — or firing — is certain to be a continuing storyline as the defending Super Bowl champion Bucs go through the playoffs.
The sad part is we may never know what was going on in Brown’s head. Viral video gods do not answer tweets.
Source: Berkshire mont