Tag: New England Patriots

Where were the questions before Justin Rohrwasser was signed by the Patriots?

The kicker could be telling the truth, but there’s only one way to find out. And that’s not by taking his word for it.

By Bomani Jones

The sleuths of the internet noticed a tattoo on the forearm of Justin Rohrwasser, the New England Patriots’ fifth-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft. What started as chuckles about the novelty of an inked-up place-kicker led to the revelation that Rohrwasser chose to indelibly put the logo of the Three Percenters, a far-right militia group, on his body. On draft day, Rohrwasser told reporters he thought the tattoo was a show of military support and he has since learned better.

When did he learn better? That day.

Rohrwasser told Steve Burton of WBZ-TV in Boston that he got the tattoo when he was 18, and the mark created no problems while he was at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. Toward the end of the interview, his voice shook as he expressed remorse for getting a tattoo he thought supported the armed forces. He also said he will have the tattoo removed.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Rohrwasser was telling the truth. Rather than getting a tattoo of a bald eagle or Uncle Sam, he accidentally and ironically chose a symbol that represents a group that actually opposes the actions of the federal government and, somehow, not one person who noticed the tattoo told him its true meaning. He put on his body something he could barely explain.

Even if all that’s true, it’s damning to multiple parties that it took until Monday for anyone to directly ask Rohrwasser follow-up questions. His explanation on April 25 invited more scrutiny than it provided clarity, but no one with the job of asking him questions posed any in response to his initial answer.

Meanwhile, we’re still waiting on someone to ask Patriots coach Bill Belichick any of the following questions: Do the Patriots, like some other teams in pro sports, vet the tattoos of the players they consider selecting? If so, was Rohrwasser one of those players? If not, were you made aware of his tattoo of the symbol of a militia? Had you known this, if you didn’t know, would the Patriots have selected him? Now that you know — and the public knows — do you plan to sign him? Or will owner Bob Kraft cut ties with him as he did Christian Peter, who was drafted in 1996 by the Pats despite multiple violent incidents involving women, but wasn’t signed after women’s groups objected to his selection?

And, if someone wanted to go a little further, he or she could ask why, if Rohrwasser’s tattoo wasn’t disqualifying, a team with a hole on the depth chart at quarterback 1 hasn’t called Colin Kaepernick.

These questions would be responsible, delicate and fair. They are also necessary.

So why are they so hard to ask?

For decades, NFL teams have been famous for thoroughly vetting potential draftees and monitoring current players. Combine interviews often sound like interrogations, as team executives poke and prod players, asking uncomfortable — and often unnecessary — questions because they leave no stone unturned. Players’ affiliations, familial and otherwise, are closely scrutinized. In 2008, the NFL went so far as to hire experts to monitor whether players were using gang signs in games.

There’s a chance, had anyone asked someone in law enforcement about the Three Percenters, there would have been a long conversation. The group was formed in 2008, ostensibly out of a fear that Barack Obama’s election would lead to government overreach. Though its national council said the group does not associate with racism, there was security provided at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. While many law enforcement officers are Three Percenters, police departments in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, have disciplined officers for affiliation with the militia.

If a cop would have to answer for getting the Three Percenters logo tattooed on himself, it’s awfully generous to let Rohrwasser brush it away with an answer that didn’t add up.

That tattoo seems to say a lot more than someone’s tweets and likes. One could argue tweets are flippant, but that would be a harder sell if one had to get needled to send them. Accidentally or otherwise, Rohrwasser made a permanent statement of allegiance to a problematic organization, and that statement was apparently made past the threshold of adulthood. It could not be treated casually.

Rohrwasser is chalking this up to ignorance, an excuse one can’t grant as easily to Belichick. So how did Belichick, or anyone else, miss this one? Is Rohrwasser not the kind of guy they think they need to look into as such, both because he’s white and … well, he’s a kicker?

Or is it because, in a country where the president saw “good people on both sides” in Charlottesville, it’s been collectively decided that groups like the Three Percenters should be protected?

When armed Three Percenters showed up at armed forces recruiting centers across America in 2015 — ostensibly to protect unarmed recruiters after a shooting at a center in Tennessee — the Army told recruiters to treat them as a threat, but also to be “polite” and “professional” if engaged in conversation. This is sage advice for outgunned recruiters, but the thought of armed civilians being treated with honey instead of vinegar or gunpowder is impossible to relate to.

Perhaps that explains why those tattoos were treated as unimportant, maybe even how Rohrwasser could have the tattoo for years and never get a double take. Or maybe it’s just because groups like the Three Percenters don’t offend enough white people.

For all the ways the media got it wrong with Kaepernick, they at least treated his protest like it was important. There was no shortage of questions headed his way (though he’s answered none since 2016). But he was making the most daring public statement an athlete can make, the one so many explicitly avoid — black people, in this country, are the victims of racism and deserve better. Kaepernick’s pro-black words and aesthetics were polarizing and offensive to much of the public. “Wokeness” and support for Kaepernick didn’t fuel that story. The anger directed toward Kaepernick was that flame’s oxygen. The story thrived nationally because it struck a chord with white people, just like pretty much every other big story.

If the backlash had to do with respect for the law, Rohrwasser’s tattoo would be a hotter topic. Despite there reportedly being hundreds of law enforcement officers who are Three Percenters, they are no more respectful of the police than Kaepernick. Kaepernick’s protests center on stopping police officers from doing illegal things and getting away with them. The Three Percenters demand that their members not enforce laws out of step with their agenda (this applies to police officers and servicemen).

Writers know a controversial topic when they see one. Ignoring this one might be saying the quiet part quietly, but loud enough to hear — an express willingness to take up arms against the United States government, and refusing to enforce laws one has sworn to uphold, is less controversial than asking those whose job is to protect black people to not kill them without good reason.

Treating Rohrwasser delicately and sparing Belichick completely is saying none of this is a big deal. It doesn’t matter that, had no one noticed a picture on the internet, Rohrwasser would have been a walking advertisement for a militia whenever he was on camera. It doesn’t matter that legendary NFL investigators somehow missed something so glaring. It doesn’t matter that this would fly in the face of the idea that a kicker isn’t worth controversy.

And it doesn’t matter that someone hasn’t been able to play in three seasons because he, supposedly, disrespected America, but Rohrwasser can shrug off what looks like an affiliation with an anti-government group.

When something like this comes up, the questions can’t just be to check something off a to-do list. The reason to ask the first question is the reason to ask more, to gain clarity on something that much of the public found jarring. If Kaepernick’s T-shirt with Fidel Castro on it was worth a few questions, so is Rohrwasser’s tattoo.

But guys like Rohrwasser rarely have to answer for themselves. And when they do, they get patted on the back like Burton, a black reporter, did by telling his audience he didn’t think Rohrwasser was a racist and telling viewers to “give the kid a chance.”

Men like Belichick don’t have to answer for anyone else. Sports media rarely has to answer for its inconsistency and negligence on these topics. Rohrwasser gets a tattoo to make a statement, and the people who notice are treated as the problem.

Hey, this really could be the misunderstanding Rohrwasser said it is, but there’s only one way to find out. And that’s not by taking his word for it, the easiest act that too many have been willing to do.

Antonio Brown thinks he’s the victim

His career won’t recover until he accepts responsibility for his actions

Antonio Brown needs to hit the reset button on a once-brilliant career. But will anyone give him a chance now? Christian Petersen/Getty Images 

By Jesse Washington

Antonio Brown needs to tackle his own problems. He’s the only one left who can do it.

The NFL’s most perplexing personality continues to evade responsibility for his mistakes, just like he leaves defenders grasping at air. Brown’s latest lapse, an altercation with the Oakland Raiders’ general manager, which led to his release Saturday, was another example of him blaming others for his errors instead of owning them.

Brown missed much of the Raiders’ training camp with strangely frostbitten feet and bizarre helmet grievances. On Wednesday, he posted a bitter Instagram message complaining about being fined for his absences, which led to him screaming at general manager Mike Mayock, being physically restrained while threatening to punch his boss in the face, and calling him a “cracker.”

Brown briefly avoided a suspension by apologizing at a team meeting Friday. But as with past mea culpas that turned to pointed fingers, he then released a tone-deaf video portraying himself as a martyr and the Raiders as the problem.

Now the NFL universe is wondering what comes next for the 31-year-old diva of delusion. Rather than accept the fact that he deserved to be punished for his behavior in Oakland, he reverted to his history of implausible deniability, which threatens to sink a Hall of Fame career.

During his nine years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brown occasionally admitted his mistakes. After quarterback Ben Roethlisberger criticized Brown for a sideline tantrum in 2017, Brown said, “I’m glad he did what he did. He called me out.” But as Brown hijacked the Steelers in 2018 and then parachuted into Oakland, he has been increasingly defiant and irrational.

In 2016, as Brown’s touchdowns became occasions for twerking and other cartoonish celebrations, he earned the title of the best receiver in football. That also was the season when he broadcast his infamous Facebook Live video from the Steelers’ locker room after a playoff victory, violating the team’s inner sanctum and exposing head coach Mike Tomlin using embarrassing language. The following week, after the video brouhaha contributed to Pittsburgh’s loss in the AFC Championship Game, Brown refused to talk to the media.

Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown warms up before an NFL preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, on Aug. 15.PHOTO BY CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES

Tomlin called Brown out over the video. Like Roethlisberger, he was doing his best to hold his star receiver accountable. The subtext was “grow up.” It seemed to be working, as Brown issued what sounded like a public relations-scripted apology — while his agent negotiated with the Steelers for a new contract.

Two weeks after the season ended, in a TV interview at the 2017 Super Bowl, Brown was less contrite when confronted by Shannon Sharpe and Skip Bayless about the touchdown antics that saddled his team with 15-yard penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct. “Everyone wants to celebrate your faults. They want to maximize your failures,” Brown said.

Later in that interview, he denied the fact that he refused to talk to the media after the playoff loss. Sharpe tried to box Brown in like a cornerback cutting off a sideline angle, but Brown broke free with a stutter-step of rationalizations. “I can’t come do an interview sweaty all up,” Brown claimed, flashing a smile.

Shortly after that interview, Brown signed a new deal, including a $17 million signing bonus, that made him the highest-paid receiver in football. The apologies dried up after that.

No remorse for calling a white journalist a racist after he reported that Brown was limping. Or for yelling at his offensive coordinator during a game and then skipping practice the next day. Or for allegedly tossing furniture from his high-rise Miami apartment, driving 100 mph through a 45 mph zone or responding to the NFL’s new helmet rules like a teenager whose parents took away his phone.

In September 2018, I reported that Brown’s prolific Instagram posts masked a disturbing pattern of turmoil off the field. Brown responded by tweeting at me: “wait to I see you bro we gone see what that jaw like.” He later issued an apologetic statement through the Steelers. He did not post that statement on social media, which is where Brown expresses his truest thoughts.

Through it all, Brown continued to produce on the field. The former sixth-round draft pick has always used an underdog, me-against-the-world mentality to fuel the otherworldly work ethic that made him a star. Denial can be a superpower when you’re a 5-foot-10 receiver coming out of Central Michigan University who ran a 4.56-second 40 at the NFL combine.

But now that he’s top dog, Brown has fallen into an alternate reality where doubters and enemies lurk around every corner. “When your own team want to hate but there’s no stopping me now devil is a lie. Everyone got to pay this year so we clear,” Brown typed on Instagram over an image of the letter from the Raiders that detailed his fines.

The Raiders should have been more concerned about Brown’s delusional end to last season.

The Steelers needed to win their final game to make the playoffs. The Wednesday before that game, Brown got into an argument with Roethlisberger, threw a ball in his quarterback’s direction and stomped out of practice. He went off the grid Thursday, Friday and Saturday, ignoring messages from Tomlin and other members of the team. Brown showed up at the stadium Sunday, when his agent contacted Tomlin and said Brown wanted to play. Tomlin said no. That was the end of Brown in black and gold.

Brown has yet to accept any responsibility for any of this.

On Twitter, and on LeBron James’ TV show The Shop, Brown spun a tale of having “bumps and bruises,” Tomlin telling him to stay home and the coach lying to the team that Brown quit. When the team voted JuJu Smith-Schuster their MVP, Brown attacked the young receiver on social media for a game-ending fumble. When Roethlisberger apologized for publicly criticizing Brown during the season, Brown tweeted, “Two face” — which undermined the sincerity of his previous apologies to Roethlisberger.

The whole thing was as shocking as Brown’s new blond mustache. Maybe he was enabled by the Raiders’ contract upgrade: $20 million per year, with $30 million guaranteed. But his tantrums allowed Oakland to void that deal, keep almost all of that money, and cut Brown loose.

Brown had 30 million reasons to swallow his medicine and his pride, apologize to his new team and hit the reset button on a once-brilliant career. But he was unable to understand his responsibility to his teammates, his employers and his own transcendent talent.

“I bring accountability,” Brown said at his introductory news conference in Oakland.

This might have been his last chance to make that statement true.