Jan. 5 (UPI) — In his first comments since abruptly leaving during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ game against the New York Jets on Sunday, receiver Antonio Brown said he was forced to play on an injured ankle that will require surgery.
Brown said in a lengthy statement Wednesday night that an MRI on Monday revealed broken bone fragments, a torn ligament and cartilage loss in the ankle.
The 33-year-old Brown also accused the Buccaneers of mischaracterizing his sideline outburst as a “mental health issue,” rather than an unwillingness to play because of significant pain.
Brown was on the field for 26 plays before departing Sunday’s matchup against the Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. After becoming upset on the sideline, the veteran wideout removed his jersey, pads and undershirt, and he tossed his shirt and gloves into the stands.
The All-Pro receiver then jogged across the end zone while both teams were on the opposite side of the field and waved to fans as he traveled to the locker room.
After the game, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians denied having knowledge that Brown was still dealing with the ankle injury, a point that he reiterated Monday. When asked if Brown told him he was injured, Arians said, “No.”
However, Brown’s attorney, Sean Burstyn, told ESPN on Wednesday that Brown informed the Bucs’ training staff and Arians that he felt he was too injured to stay on the field against the Jets. Burstyn also noted that Brown’s ankle had been discussed with Arians and the medical staff throughout the week.
Brown echoed Burstyn’s comments in his statement.
“I took a seat on the sideline and my coach came up to me, very upset, and shouted, ‘What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with you?’ I told him, ‘It’s my ankle.’ But he knew that. It was well-documented and we had discussed it,” Brown said. “He then ordered me to get on the field. I said, ‘Coach, I can’t.’
“He didn’t call for medical attention. Instead, he shouted at me, ‘You’re done!’ while he ran his finger across his throat. Coach was telling me that if I didn’t play hurt, then I was done with the Bucs.”
Brown said that verbal altercation triggered him to leave the field.
“I know we were losing to the Jets and that was frustrating for all of us. But I could not make football plays on that ankle,” he said. “Yes, I walked off the field. But there’s a major difference between launching from the line and taking hits, compared to jogging off the field with a rush of emotions going through your mind.
“I am reflecting on my reaction, but there was a trigger. The trigger was someone telling me that I’m not allowed to feel pain.”
Following the Bucs’ 28-24 win over the Jets, Arians said Brown was no longer on the team. The coach reiterated that Wednesday, though the team has yet to formally release him.
Brown also alleged that despite cutting ties with him, the Buccaneers are trying to control his medical care. The receiver said he has already scheduled his ankle surgery.
“You can see the bone bulging from the outside. But that must and can be repaired,” Brown said. “The MRI has been read by two top orthopedic surgeons in NYC, including Dr. Martin O’Malley at Hospital for Special Surgery.
“Not realizing that I had already scheduled a surgery at HSS, the Bucs ‘ordered’ me under penalty of discipline and with a few hours’ notice to show up to a more junior doctor at HSS for another opinion.”
Brown initially sustained the ankle injury in Week 6 and was forced to miss five games. He then received a three-game suspension from the NFL after the league found that he produced a fake COVID-19 vaccination card.
Brown returned in Week 15 against the Carolina Panthers, recording 10 receptions for 101 receiving yards. However, he aggravated the injury and was a non-participant in practice Thursday and Friday. The team listed him as questionable leading into the Jets game.
Arians wasn’t at those practices because he was self-isolating at home after testing positive for COVID-19, but he was made aware of all practices and player statuses.
Earlier this week, Arians voiced his support for Brown and said it was difficult watching him erupt on the sideline.
“It was very hard,” he said. “I wish him well. If he needs help, I hope he gets some. It’s very hard, because I do care about him. I care about him a bunch. I hope that he’s OK.”