A decision is expected this week in the grievance filed by Raiders receiver Antonio Brown over the league’s refusal to let him wear a helmet that is too old to be recertified for 2019 — and that Schutt no longer manufactures. If/when (when) Brown loses, what happens next?
In a rational world, Brown would select a new model and show up for practices and games. But there’s little rational about Brown’s behavior in recent months, and it’s hard to imagine him quietly accepting whatever decision is made by a neutral, independent arbitrator.
Brown could go to court, presumably, in a last-ditch, longshot effort to supersede the collectively-bargained procedures for dealing with such disputes. He could make an appeal to the Commissioner. Brown also could offer to sign whatever waiver he’d need to sign to be allowed to wear the outdated helmet.
None of those options are likely to work. Currently, the league’s obsession with player health is less about managing liability than it is about maintaining a future supply of football players. The mere act of devoting millions to identifying the safest possible helmets sends a clear message to parents that the NFL cares about brains. And the insistence on wearing the safest possible helmets helps to minimize, in theory, situations in which significant head trauma may occur.
If a high-profile player like Brown signs a waiver, wears the outdated helmet, and suffers a serious concussion, moms and dads won’t say, “Well, he signed a waiver.” They’ll be more likely to tell their kids, “No football for you.”
That’s why the league can’t, and won’t, bend on this. If Brown is permitted to sign a waiver, other players would have to be permitted to sign waivers, too, both now and in the future, as currently acceptable helmets are made obsolete by better models.
So, at some point, Brown will have to decide whether to play in a new helmet or to not play at all. He has more than 30 million reasons to pick a helmet, any helmet, and to show up for work. Someone needs to get him to understand that before pride, ego, and vanity derail his career.