As a lifelong fan of the Patriots, I have grown up defending my team. Any New Englander will tell you that the Pats are no strangers to controversy: from the 2007 cheating allegations, to “Deflategate,” to the Aaron Hernandez scandal. Though it can be exhausting to constantly defend your team, growing up I would always find ways to stand by the Pats —lightheartedly labeling opponents as “haters” or citing Tom Brady’s six rings as proof of his superiority.
This unwavering support began to falter in the last year when the scandals surrounding the Patriots began to question my morals. In light of recent controversies, I have struggled to cheer on a team whose leaders often make decisions that I simply cannot support. These feelings reached an all-time high this week when the Patriots allowed Antonio Brown to play against the Dolphins after Brown’s former trainer Britney Taylor filed a lawsuit against him accusing him of sexual assault. Just as I was sitting down to my keyboard ready to voice my anger, the Patriots announced that they were cutting AB.
Though I was in support of the decision, the news came as a shock. As much as I hate to admit it, the Patriots have historically prioritized winning over moral integrity. Just this past year, owner Robert Kraft was accused of soliciting prostitution with possible ties to human trafficking when a video surfaced of Kraft partaking in sexual acts in a Florida spa. With Kraft’s legal case yet to be concluded, the NFL has yet to decide on a punishment for Kraft. In the meantime, Kraft has been allowed to carry on with business as usual instead of facing the consequences of his actions. This feels like a free pass, as if the franchise and the NFL conveniently avoided holding Kraft responsible and let the headlines be pushed to the back burner.
This behavior is unfortunately not unique to New England. In the last decade the NFL has been ripe with controversies, specifically domestic violence and sexual assault allegations. The league’s handling of these cases has been inconsistent at best. While there have been examples of teams releasing accused players, in other cases players have been let off easy with six-week suspensions being league protocol. Benching a player for a few games should not be considered justice. In all these cases the players, coaches and owners are almost always pardoned by fans after a half-hearted apology, most get to continue playing. Often the accusers are victim-shamed, labeled as attention-seekers, money-chasers or accused of trying to tarnish the beloved players’ reputations. Meanwhile, the players are glorified with trophies, rings and brand deals.
That is why the Patriots releasing Brown is so significant. The Patriots are currently the most successful and recognizable team in the franchise. For them to cut arguably the best receiver in the NFL during their quest for a seventh Super Bowl ring cannot go unnoticed. This has the potential to start a precedent for other teams to follow suit, sending a message that the NFL will not tolerate abusers or alleged rapists. This is definitely a victory, but this is just the start.
While the Patriots did make the right decision, we must never forget that Brown was allowed to play the day after the allegations surfaced. For a short period of time, Brown was tolerated, accepted and defended. It is equally as important that we do not forget how fans reacted. When Brown signed his contract, fans everywhere were quick to their feet in applause, bodaciously boasting about how the team had signed arguably the best receiver in the league. But the next day, when the accusations came to light? Silence.
At a certain point, the NFL and its fans must decide what is more important: moral integrity or winning a football game. In this case, the Patriots made the right decision. In the future, the whole league must make the same decision. I grew up watching a sport that often condones misogyny and violence. What sport do we want young fans today watching?
Emma Garber can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @EmmaGarber1.