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Antonio Brown and the NFL: Questions of Rape, Violence, and Mental Illness

This is tough. This is really tough. The Antonio Brown saga went from relatively ridiculous team drama to something dark and something real. This country needs to figure out issues of rape, incest, and violence soon, and until we do, the trauma and long-lasting effects of victims will be felt throughout their lifetime.

The NFL is a game. It’s not serious. And it’s a privilege to play in this NFL, not a right. Antonio Brown has been accused via civil lawsuit by former trainer, Britney Taylor, of sexual assault and rape.

We go to the NFL for reprieve from the everyday, from the stresses of work and the headaches of what we go through, but when issues like this come to the fore, it’s 2019, and we have yet to figure out a way to deal with these issues effectively.

The Problem of Rape Accusations.

Unfortunately, even in 2019, in the age of #metoo, we struggle with rape allegations and how to deal with them. There have been noted and famous allegations that have been proven false over time with the product of destroying the reputation and life of the accused. That is not justice.

But neither is ignoring these issues. The problem of rape is that it goes to the evidential issues of “he said she said” or vise versa. Rape and sexual assault are still a real danger in the United States, though some statistics would show they are down in number and frequency.

The problem with rape allegations is that it tends to involve a great deal of shame, trauma, the destruction of boundaries, and, often, the destruction of the victim. Yes, we live in a country where a person is innocent until proven guilty, but it can be very difficult in a criminal court to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt when the act could potentially be consensual, under the influence of substances, and other variables.

Trauma and its Effects.

One of the most disturbing and difficult elements of abuse and trauma is that it has a particular effect: the destruction of boundaries. Ostensibly, it says to the victim that they are not worthy of having boundaries, that anyone can cross them. They are not deserving of basic human respect and decency.

I get frustrated when I hear people talk about trauma and abuse as if they needed to be categorized. Slap a child in the face, and it tells them they have no physical autonomy. It removes their armor, and they are then sent into the world without that armor, and predators pay attention to easy victims. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center,

“Nearly one in 10 women has been raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration or alcohol/drug-facilitated completed penetration.”

Also, they point out that, “More than one-third of women who report being raped before age 18 also experience rape as an adult.” This means that the likelihood of sexual violence increases if one has been a victim.

Trauma carries with it heavy shame because of what the act says of the person. Guilt is when someone does something bad. Shame is when someone IS bad. I’ve known many family members, friends, ex-lovers, etc. who’ve been assaulted or raped in their life, and the effects are obvious. Do you know how many of them went to the police? Not one. I realize this is anecdotal, but I would imagine that many of you know someone, woman or man, who has been assaulted that has not gone to the police. Why should a person who believes they are inherently bad, who has been taught that they don’t deserve the kind of respect and justice others do go to the police? And pursuing criminal charges can trigger an already traumatized mind.

Borderline Personality Disorder.

I believe the NFL has a mental health crisis. I believe the NFL is highly represented versus the general population by people who suffer with Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD. According to Psychology Today, men are often misdiagnosed because “BPD typically manifests itself in different ways in men than it does in women.”

Men who suffer from BPD often show signs of aggression, impulse control, jealousy, insecurity, sexual misconduct, controlling behavior, and substance abuse. This disorder, ironically, is often a product of abuse, and does not make for an easy life. Many men who suffer from this issue are not diagnosed until it’s too late.

Ex Wide Receiver Brandon Marshall should be considered a hero for coming out, admitting, and publicly dealing with the effects of BPD. When he was a young man, he struggled with violence against police, lovers, and strangers. He’s come out publicly to address this issue in an NFL culture where weakness is death.

But why do I believe the NFL is overrepresented? Because the game itself encourages the behaviors that BPD will often elicit: violence, aggression, etc. It stands to reason that a man who is more violent by nature, often as a result of trauma himself, will be more effective in a violent sport. I think the NFL has a crisis of mental health on its hands, and it’s not doing enough to help and address these issues.

Antonio Brown.

I am not saying Antonio Brown did what his former trainer accused him of. Nor am I saying that Brown suffers from a mental illness like BPD. But there are difficult issues that the NFL and society at large must contend with, and there aren’t many easy answers.

I’m not sure what the NFL should do. I do find Brown’s alleged messages to Britney Taylor disturbing:

But disturbing is not evidence of guilt. Remember that in a civil suit, the burden of proof is on the preponderance of evidence, not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt like in criminal courts. So, essentially, if 50.1% of jurors believe what Ms. Taylor is alleging most likely happened, she will be awarded damages.

In criminal court, the burden of proof, in a situation where proof itself is difficult, can be overwhelming and feel impossible to the victim, which could be why she is pursuing damages in civil court.

So, What do we do?

I don’t know. I don’t know except that we need to make it easier in this country to address mental health issues and trauma without the stigma of shame. More resources need to be offered to people, and the NFL, as a multi-billion dollar industry is a disturbing microcosm of the shame and stigma associated with what many people see as “weakness.”

Should AB be suspended? Should the Patriots cut him? I don’t know. Is this woman telling the truth? I don’t know. Honestly, the issue is far more reaching than that. Until the weakest and most hurt in our country are greeted with open arm and tenderness instead of ostracization and shame, we will never begin to solve these issues.

Even now, even in our “enlightened times,” so many are silent. And I don’t blame them.

To me, it starts by being good family members, lovers, friends, and neighbors. It starts by influencing and being vulnerable to the circle of influence you have instead of thinking on a national or global scale.

The situation with Antonio Brown went from ridiculous to something we need to take seriously. There are no easy solutions, and there are no easy answers, as we don’t know what happened, and, perhaps, we never will. I hope Roger Goodell and the NFL owners will take this moment and opportunity to do more work in addressing these issues at the scale they can control as opposed to simply reacting when money is lost.

I believe we’re doing pretty well in this country, and I, for one, am thankful for the privileges I’ve been given, but there’s much more work to do, and it starts with kindness.

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One comment

  1. “I believe the NFL is highly represented versus the general population by people who suffer with Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD.” This would be a fascinating research study. I work with people who have BPD as a mental health coach and get about a 50/50 mix of men and women. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a higher representation of BPD in a particular career field, but never thought about the NFL in particular. Interesting read!

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