What if Brown signed a waiver agreeing to release the NFL of all legal liability if they let him wear his preferred old helmet?
Is it possible to think someone is being completely irrational but still be OK with them making a potentially poor decision as long as they are willing to take accountability?
I suppose that’s where I’m at right now as it relates to Antonio Brown and the helmet news that has dominated the national conversation since it broke on Friday.
To summarize, Brown would like to wear the same helmet he’s worn since his rookie year in 2010, but the NFL will no longer let him. Without getting too deep into the weeds, the NFL and the NFLPA have spent $60 million researching helmet safety and technology since 2016 in order to figure out which helmets perform the best. Players were given a list of which helmets were acceptable and which were not in 2017 and were told that they needed to switch by the end of 2018.
Several players have made that change even though some longtime veterans like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Staley were somewhat reluctant to do so. As The Athletic’s Dan Kaplan recently reported, “The league allowed players one extra year — last season — to transition (into new helmets). By the end of the year, 32 players — including Brady and Rodgers — remained in helmets that had not passed. (As of August 2019), Brown is believed to be the only player left who is resisting the change.”
Brown had a grievance hearing against the NFL on Friday that reportedly lasted over two hours and there were reports that he would retire unless he was allowed to wear his old helmet. That didn’t last long as Brown has already reported back to Raiders camp and reportedly has been told he can wear his same model helmet as long as it is less than 10 years old.
On Monday morning, the NFL made the below statement via social media:
On the surface, Brown being so adamant about wearing a helmet that isn’t even certified anymore doesn’t make much sense. But in fairness to Brown, he’s not the only one who wants to keep wearing an old helmet. Staley, the 15-year veteran offensive lineman with the 49ers, recently said he wouldn’t have made the change unless it was mandatory. And even Brady is still working through having to get a new helmet.The player can’t practice or play in games with equipment that’s not approved. If he doesn’t play or practice he is in breach of his contract and doesn’t get paid. Nfl policy is that Helmets have to be certified by NOSCAE. They don’t certify equipment that’s old than 10 years.
— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) August 12, 2019
“I’ve been experimenting with a couple different ones and I don’t really love the one I’m in, but I don’t really have much of a choice so I’m doing the best I can to work with it,” Brady said on WEEI radio in Boston on Monday. “My last helmet, I wore in four Super Bowls, so it was a pretty great helmet for me, and I hated to put it on the shelf, but that was what they said to do, so I’m dealing with it and working with something else.”
I can certainly sympathize with wanting to keep the helmet you are used to. When newer, lighter models came out during my career, I had no interest in switching, not only because I was comfortable with the one I had but also because I knew the amount of helmet-to-helmet contact that occurred during practices and games and I wanted the heaviest helmet I could find.
Is there a happy medium for Brown and the NFL if he can’t find a newer Schutt?
The league is obviously worried about the health and safety of their players for multiple reasons but should Brown, or Brady and Staley for that matter, be forced to change something they are comfortable with and have been using at this level for years?
All of which leads to the concept of informed consent, also known as a waiver. What if Brown signed a waiver agreeing to release the NFL of all legal liability if they let him wear his preferred old helmet? That doesn’t seem like much of a stretch considering as it stands now a 10-year-old helmet is unacceptable but a 9-year-old helmet is fine.
Many will argue that this would set a very bad and dangerous precedent for the NFL. I get that but I would argue that on some level the precedent already exists.
Take Cam Meredith, for example, the former Bears and Saints wide receiver who recently signed a contract with the Patriots that included a waiver should he suffer an injury to the troubled knee he’s been dealing with since tearing his ACL with the Bears in 2017. That means the Patriots are not responsible for anything related to the health of that knee should something happen to it. No salary. No rehab. No workers’ compensation. Nothing.
It’s probably not a smart thing for any player to do yet Meredith did it and I understand why; he didn’t feel like he had a choice. I once told the Atlanta Falcons that I would sign a waiver on my surgically repaired back when they mentioned it as an option during my free agent visit in 2007. They ultimately failed me on my physical and I signed with the Redskins instead but the fact is I was willing to sign that waiver to continue my career.
Meredith is aware of the risk and is willing to accept it. So was I. Why can’t Brown do the same?
In general, I’m in favor of freedom of choice as long as a person is aware of the risk they are taking. That’s why I wrote that a college player like Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence should be allowed to leave school after this upcoming season even though the rule says he would have to return in 2020. I think he should be free to make what he thinks is the best decision for him even if there are some legitimate reasons why the “three-year” rule is in place.
After all, it’s his life.
And the important thing amid all the chaos is that it’s Antonio Brown’s life, too.