Antonio Brown’s training camp has featured controversy from head to toe, and just two total days of practice. On Friday we learned that the reason the Raiders wideout hasn’t been practicing has less to do with his frostbitten feet and more to do with the fact that the NFL won’t allow him to practice or play with his personal helmet, which is so old it can’t be certified to meet the league’s safety standards.
Brown filed a grievance against the NFL, and had his hearing on Friday in Philadelphia. Previously, it had been reported that Brown was threatening to retire if he wasn’t allowed to wear the helmet he’s been wearing his entire career (pro and college). According to The Athletic, at his grievance hearing Brown tried a new tack: threatening that if he’s forced to wear a new helmet and gets injured, he’d hold the NFL responsible.
“And I think it’ll be interesting if the NFL forces Antonio to wear a different helmet,” the source said. “And he does play and he doesn’t retire as some people have reported he will do. And then he suffers a really severe injury. I’d hate to be the NFL. Because now you’ve forced him into wearing a different type of helmet. And I think at that point, though, the liability will be dramatic.”
At issue is Brown’s helmet, a 12-year-old Schutt Air Advantage, a model that’s not manufactured anymore. In 2017, the NFL and NFLPA reached an agreement that all players must wear NOCSAE (National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment)-certified helmet models. While Brown’s helmet model was previously certified, helmet technology evolves, and as a rule NOCSAE refuses to certify any helmets older than 10 years.
Peter King also notes that NFL regulations require individual helmets to be worn for no more than 10 years before being replaced, meaning Brown’s helmet is doubly against the rules.
The rule requiring NOCSAE-certification went into effect in 2018, though players were given a one-year grandfather period and Brown was one of 32 players who wore their old helmets last year. This season there are no exceptions. Tom Brady, one of those players who took advantage of the grandfather period, is equally unhappy about having to switch to a new helmet in 2019, and he says he’s having trouble finding one he’s comfortable in. But he’s still switching, saying “I don’t really have a choice.”
Brown doesn’t either, here. Though NOCSAE certification is perhaps more about liability than the long-term effects of brain trauma (helmets can’t stop concussions; NOCSAE standards are more about preventing skull fractures), it’s supported by the players’ union, making it one of the few things the NFL and NFLPA are united on. With the union not in his corner, it’s hard to see any scenario where Brown is allowed to wear his old helmet.
On Sunday, Brown posted a cryptic but also not-particularly-applicable-here caption on his Instagram. Read into it what you will!
A ruling in Brown’s grievance hearing is expected this week, and it’d be an utter shock if it’s Brown’s favor. So he will, in fact, have a choice: He’s either going to wear a new helmet, or he’s not going to play.