When Antonio Brown agreed to a one-year contract with the Patriots a little more than 24 hours before the first Sunday of the NFL season, it was supposed to be the end of the soap opera. A drama-filled summer with the Raiders had culminated in his release; now, he was joining the league’s most successful franchise. The distractions were sure to fade away under Bill Belichick, and the legendary head coach was sure to dismiss any that didn’t. Tom Brady was “a million percent in” on Brown joining the team, and even offered to put the receiver up in his home while he looked for a new one, according to a story relayed by Sunday Night Football play-by-play man Al Michaels. Brown’s arrival in Foxboro was going to, finally, make it all about football again.
That illusion didn’t last long. Brown’s first full week as a Patriot included a civil lawsuit filed against him by former trainer Britney Taylor, who alleged that she was the victim of several instances of sexual assault by Brown, including one in which Brown “forcibly raped” her at his residence in 2018. Taylor’s accusations are the most serious to be levied against Brown, but, as Sports Illustrated has learned, they are far from the only ones.
SI conducted interviews with more than two dozen people who have employed, worked for, coached, or played alongside Brown—some who have taken legal action against him, and others who have not—and reviewed police and court documents from jurisdictions ranging from Miami to Pittsburgh to Oakland. In a half-dozen lawsuits, he is accused of refusal to pay wages to former assistants and part-time employees. Court documents and interviews also suggest a pattern of disturbing, sometimes bizarre behavior—including, SI has learned, a second woman’s allegations of sexual misconduct by Brown. Neither Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, nor his lawyer, Darren Heitner, responded to SI’s emailed list of questions, seeking Brown’s responses to each of the accusations within this story. (UPDATE: After this story published, Heitner tweeted that Brown had reviewed the new sexual misconduct allegations against him and “denies that he ever engaged in such activities.”)
In total, the stories of those who have encountered Brown paint a portrait of a superstar athlete living a rockstar lifestyle, of a man who rose from poverty and anonymity in Miami to stardom and wealth on a national stage, only to make a habit of insulting, attacking and betraying people he saw as being beneath his station.
In June 2017, Brown agreed to host a charity softball game in Pittsburgh to benefit the National Youth Foundation, a Pennsylvania-based all-volunteer group of women that promotes inclusion and gender equality, as well as developing academic skills in kids. During an auction of artwork donated by regional artists, Brown noticed a portrait of himself as well as its artist, a woman in her late 20s in from out-of-state. She had resolved to keep her silence on the events that ensued. Through the foundation, Sports Illustrated contacted the artist, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about her dealings with Brown, which she has not previously revealed publicly.
According to one of the organization’s co-founders, Sophia Hanson, Brown liked the painting so much that he trumped the would-be winning bid of $450 with a $700 offer to buy it himself. Hanson says she took Brown at his word when he promised payment at a later date—after all, Brown has earned more than $69 million before taxes during his on-field NFL career, and that’s not including national endorsement deals with the likes of Pepsi, Nike, Microsoft and EA Sports.
Brown was so delighted with the portrait and the artist that he invited her to come to his home in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh to create another painting of him, this time a mural on a wall in his home. The artist says Brown agreed to a daily fee of $1,000 for her work and sent a van to transport her from New York City, along with some of his friends and associates, to western Pennsylvania.
After arriving at his home, the woman at first thought nothing of Brown’s flirtations—an uncomfortable yet constant reality of her professional life—and she was thrilled by his willingness to share her work on social media; he even posted a live video showcasing her progress. “It was very exciting, to have this person interested in my work,” the woman says. “He acted like he trusted me and he let me do my thing.”
On her second day, however, the atmosphere curdled. The artist says at one point she was in a kneeling position while painting and turned to find Brown behind her, naked, holding a small hand towel over his genitals. “He was flirty with me but I paid him no mind because I was there on business, plus, I had already seen him with multiple girls in the short time I was with him,” says the woman. “I was about 40% done on the second day, and I’m on my knees painting the bottom, and he walks up to me butt-ass naked, with a hand cloth covering his [penis] and starts having a conversation with me.” She took it as a clear sexual come-on. “Unfortunately, I’ve been tried [by men] a lot of times, so I just kept my cool and kept painting,” she says. “After that, it all ended abruptly.”
The next day, Brown told the woman he was heading to Miami. She still believed she’d finish the mural, which her small but growing social media following anxiously awaited, when Brown returned. But days turned into weeks with no contact from Brown. She’d brought another painting to his home, inspired by the concept of Dead Days—a term used in Cook County (Ill.) prisons to describe when prisoners spend more time incarcerated during pre-trial than their eventual sentences—and she hoped he’d share it on social media to raise awareness of the cause. That work was stranded in Brown’s house, she says, and it has not been returned. His various assistants, who had been warm to her for two days, no longer answered text messages. Brown paid her $2,000 for her days of work but otherwise “ghosted” her, she says.
The woman is not pursuing charges or remuneration, though she was bothered by his behavior. She said that friends with whom she had shared details of this incident alerted her to the federal lawsuit Taylor filed against Brown last week.
As for NYF, social media messages and emails sent to Brown and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, by both the artist and Hanson requesting the $700 payment for the original auction painting, have gone unanswered, according to the artist and Hanson.
“We didn’t want to sue,” says Hanson, “because our mission is all about seeing the good in people and lifting people up. Part of me has to believe that at some point, one of these grown men are going to realize that they shouldn’t be stealing from a charity run by black women benefiting children. I have to believe that.”
Brown and Taylor, a former gymnast who now works as a trainer, met when they were both athletes at Central Michigan University. According to Taylor’s lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of Florida on Sept. 10, Brown exposed himself and kissed her without her consent while Taylor was staying at his Pittsburgh-area home in June 2017. Later that month, while Taylor was staying at Brown’s house in Miami, Taylor was watching a church service on her iPad when, according to her Complaint, Brown “began masturbating near her without her knowledge and ejaculated on her back,” and later bragged about the incident in profane emails to Taylor. Taylor ended her working relationship with Brown but renewed it several months later after he contacted her to apologize and assured her he would “cease any sexual advances.”
On May 20, 2018, according to the lawsuit, Brown and Taylor were among a group of people who spent an evening socializing; at the end of the night, Taylor alleges, Brown “forced her down onto a bed, pushed her face into the mattress, and forcibly raped her.”
According to a statement issued by Brown’s attorney, Darren Heitner, Brown “denies each and every allegation in the lawsuit.” Heitner’s statement claims Brown was asked by Taylor to invest $1.6 million in a business project, which the receiver refused to do after learning that she had been “levied with a $30,000 IRS tax lien,” and that Brown and Taylor were engaged in a “consensual personal relationship” and that any sexual interaction was consensual. According to an ESPN report five days after the lawsuit was filed, Brown was in settlement discussions with Taylor last spring but rejected a proposed $2 million settlement in exchange for agreeing not to sue.
Brown has had acrimonious relationships with several women in his life. Police were dispatched to his Pittsburgh-area home on domestic disturbance calls three times in the last four years. Each incident involved his longtime girlfriend Chelsie Kyriss, the mother of three of his five children; none resulted in an arrest. According to the police report of an August 2017 incident, Kyriss accused Brown of throwing a bottle of cologne and a bottle of lotion at her during an argument, then leaving for a preseason game. Officers observed no injuries to Kyriss, who, according to the report, was hesitant to pursue charges for fear of it affecting Brown’s career.
In May 2018, the most recent incident, Brown called police to his home claiming Kyriss took his credit card and a Range Rover—Kyriss was in the vehicle, with the credit card, when police arrived. Kyriss told police that Brown intended to fly to California without providing adequate funds for her to take care of their children while he was gone. Brown gave the officers $500 to give to Kyriss in exchange for the credit card. Kyriss claimed she needed $1,000, but Brown refused to give her any more money. Officers were unable to settle the dispute, which to their knowledge did not turn violent, and left after suggesting that Brown “attempt to speak with Kryiss or another mediator.”
According to a Hollywood (Fla.) Police Department report, on Jan. 18, Wiltrice Jackson, who had a daughter with Brown, and the receiver were involved in a domestic dispute. Jackson arrived at Brown’s Hollywood residence seeking reimbursement for their daughter’s hair appointment. A shouting match ensued as Brown refused to let her into his residence, and, per the report, Brown pushed her, causing her to fall backward. Jackson suffered a cut on her left forearm. The next day, Jackson arrived at the Hollywood Police Department to say she didn’t want to press charges, and none were ever filed. Brown’s attorney, Darren Heitner, released a statement claiming, in part, “The closed police report proves that Antonio Brown did absolutely nothing wrong.” Sports Illustrated was unable to reach Jackson through multiple phone numbers connected to her name.
Brown’s run-ins with police became stranger and more frequent over the past two years. In April 2018, Sunny Isles (Fla.) police were called to his residence on three consecutive days. On April 23 he called police to report that, upon returning from an 11-day trip, he discovered a handgun and a tote bag containing $80,000 had been stolen from a closet in his apartment. The next day police returned to the apartment after a call reporting that furniture was being thrown to the street from the 14th-floor balcony. Police reported Brown was “very agitated” and yelling that building security had set him up. According to lawsuits filed by the building’s landlord and the family of a 22-month-old boy who was nearly struck by furniture as he walked with his grandfather (which was settled for an undisclosed amount in April), Brown was throwing the items from the apartment in a fit of rage.
One day after that, Brown called police to report the theft of his Rolls-Royce. According to the report: “We [two police officers] knocked on the door several times before a male voice responded, “who is it?” I identified myself and a black male [later identified as Brown] opened the door. When I said hello, [Brown] said ‘I found the car’ and closed the door.”
In May 2018, on yet another visit by police to Brown’s 8,800-square foot home at the mouth of a quiet cul-de-sac in Gibsonia, Pa., Brown reported that a safe containing $50,000 in cash and jewelry valued at approximately $2 million had been stolen from his bedroom while he was away in Miami. Brown told police he had a suspect in mind: Sam Williams, a personal assistant whom Brown said was the only person with access to the home. Police say Williams passed a polygraph test, and their interviews with Williams and another person of interest in the case revealed that Williams was hardly the only person with access to the house. Williams, who told police he was owed back wages by Brown, surmised the accusation was an effort to do something he’d seen Brown do to others to whom he owed money. It was a “breakup” attempt, Williams guessed in his interview with police, intended to justify Brown not paying him.
Sports Illustrated has identified several people Brown similarly cut out of his life, allegedly before payments for goods and services were made. Many of them say they were subjected to Brown’s unusual behavior. Dr. Victor Prisk, a former gymnast and bodybuilder who runs Prisk Orthopaedics and Wellness (POW) in Monroeville, Pa., says he was wary of Brown’s reputation in the athletic performance community for being, in his words, a “flighty” client. Still, in August 2018, he took an initial meeting with Brown, for which he says the receiver was three hours late. Upon arrival, Brown passed gas numerous times in Prisk’s vicinity while Prisk was testing his body fat. A video, shot by a Brown acolyte, made the rounds on the internet. “It seemed just childish to me,” Prisk says now. “I’m a doctor and this man is farting in my face.”
But Prisk took Brown on as a client anyway, creating diets and a supplement program and generally acting as Brown’s on-call “wellness coach.” Prisk says they had an oral agreement for him to be paid $500 an hour. But when the doctor would bring up payments, Prisk says, Brown demurred, instead shifting the conversation to ways he had dreamed up for the two to partner in business.
“In his very first meeting with me he said, ‘I want to get you on salary, I want you on my team,’” Prisk says. “Then he’s like, ‘We need to build this downtown. POW 2!’ I’m like, O.K., that’s cool. Found a building, had somebody put together a sales agreement for the building. Don’t hear anything back. Then he says, ‘I’m going to connect you with a treadmill company I work with. We’re gonna get you a couple treadmills for your gym.’ AB stops talking to that guy and then I’m told they’re not giving me a treadmill.”
On Sept. 6, Prisk filed suit in Pennsylvania seeking $11,500 from Brown; the suit is still pending. “He tells you he’s going to make it totally worth your while,” Prisk says. “He’s gonna invest in your business, invest in you. You’re part of my family. Call God and all that. But he doesn’t do that, and he doesn’t even pay the bill.”
Prisk is among a small galaxy of associates—trainers, nutritionists and chefs, artists, social media managers, and others—with hazy job descriptions who have spent short amounts of time in Brown’s service or friendship and moved on. Brown had a contentious, public split with trainer Bo Smith in the summer of 2017. Upon Brown’s split with the Raiders, Smith took a victory lap: “Now the world can see why I removed myself from around Antonio Brown,” he wrote on Instagram. Brown’s one-time chef, Nicholas “Chef Niko” Hasapoglou, earned a USA Today profile in 2016 highlighting his journey from drug addict to personal chef to Brown. Less than a month later, Hasapoglou was out, and implied in a social media video post that the split was not amicable. (Smith declined comment for this story; calls to phone numbers connected to Hasapoglou went unanswered and an email to him was not returned.)
Sean Pena, a speed trainer who worked with the wide receiver this summer, is suing Brown in Alameda County (Calif.), for $7,200 for alleged unpaid wages as of August 1. Says Pena’s attorney, Michael Daniel Kolodzi: “My client is pissed because he stiffed him and ghosted and him, was being evasive, and then next thing you know Brown is in Paris buying a Richard Mille watch, so it’s just a complete insult.”
Kolodzi says another potential complainant, a videographer, has reached out alleging that Brown will give employees items like shoes, then later claim them as adequate payment in lieu of money. Brown believes the notoriety people like Pena earn by working with Brown and advertising it on social media is payment enough, Kolodzi says.
Kolodzi also says that when all else fails, Brown uses assistants in good standing as a buffer between himself and his creditors. In Pena’s case, Brown allegedly verbally agreed to a contract, and left an assistant to handle the details—in Pena’s case it was Rob Santini, who describes himself as Brown’s former brand manager and publicist—then said the agreement between the service provider and the go-between didn’t have his approval. Santini says Brown asked him to put Pena on payroll and that he sent Pena’s information to Brown’s financial manager, Brian Davis, but Santini says he believes Pena was not paid in full.
“There’s something wrong with him,” Kolodzi says of Brown. “He doesn’t feel like he has to pay working-class people.”
Pittsburgh attorney Jack Goodrich represents Prisk and two others suing or planning to sue Brown. Robert Leo, a car detailer who says he assumed a role as Brown’s personal attendant and valet, says Brown owes him over $16,000 from expenses that Leo covered with his personal credit card. “Leo was dedicated to him, did everything he could for him, worked hard for him,” Goodrich says. “And he just ditched the guy.”
Goodrich’s newest client, Jeff Leung of Aqua World Pet Super Center in Pittsburgh, says he installed a 220-gallon tank at Brown’s residence and filled it with piranhas at Brown’s request in June 2018. Last December he received a call from Brown’s house, well past midnight, indicating an emergency with the fish. He arrived to a tank covered in algae due to inattention, and the inimitable odor of dead, rotting piranha. He recommended Brown discontinue the aquarium and pay him the more than $2,000 Brown owed him. Goodrich says Brown did only the former, which is why Leung is now considering a lawsuit.
In early 2019 Brown hired Stefano Tedeschi, a central Florida mainstay known as “Chef Stef,” to cook for him and his friends in a rented Florida mansion during Pro Bowl week in Orlando. Tedeschi, who has previously lived and worked in Pittsburgh and knew of Brown’s diva reputation in the business community, connected former Steelers linebacker and then-Cardinals assistant coach Larry Foote, a close friend, with Brown during Tedeschi and Brown’s first sitdown. On speaker phone, Foote told Brown that Tedeschi was the best and urged Brown to treat him well. “So I wasn’t worried about getting paid,” Tedeschi told Sports Illustrated. “[Brown] said he had a photo of Larry Foote in his locker, so that told me he respected him.”
When Brown asked Tedeschi if he’d be willing to host a party with 40-50 other Pro Bowlers at the home, Tedeschi warned him that he’d charge by the head. “He came up and asked me and he was very sweet about it,” Tedeschi says. Brown told him: “I’m not worried about money. That’s not an issue, you know that.’ ”
Tedeschi and crew prepared antipasti, jumbo cocktail shrimp with homemade cocktail sauce and tenderloin filet with mushroom gravy. Brown expressed that he was ecstatic with the chef’s performance, promising to promote Tedeschi on social media channels.
Tedeschi says that, as service people tending to various aspects of the vacation rental came in and out of the house throughout the week, he overheard Brown say on more than one occasion, “Get those m-----f---ing crackers out of here.” (Unfamiliar with the term, he asked his wife to Google whether or not “cracker” was a slur.) Tedeschi’s wife raised concerns with her husband when she heard Brown openly referring to women at the festivities as “f---ing b-----s.” During the party, a handful of players, including Brown, were using the top floor to host women, Tedeschi says. Several players openly smoked marijuana. Meanwhile, Brown’s children were in attendance. A concierge, angered by what she saw, complained to Kyriss, chastising her for tolerating the scene. (Kyriss did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)
The next day, Tedeschi says, one of Brown’s personal assistants, whom the chef identified as Brian Davis, told him, “When you speak to Mr. Brown you don’t look him in the eye.” Stunned, the 55-year-old Tedeschi ignored the man, who was some 30 years his junior. As Brown looked on, smirking, Davis began to yell: “When you speak to Mr. Brown you don’t look him in the eye!” Tedeschi says he nearly quit on the spot. “That’s when I realized I probably wasn’t getting paid,” Tedeschi says. (Davis did not respond to a request for comment.)
Later that afternoon, Brown found a severed salmon head, which Tedeschi was saving to use in a soup, in the freezer. According to Tedeschi, Brown accused the chef of making a mafia-style threat against his life.
Brown subsequently refused to pay the $38,521.20 owed to the chef, according to the civil complaint Tedeschi filed. “I did not want to file a lawsuit,” Tedeschi says. “You’re a chef suing a celebrity—that doesn’t look good on me. Other people are going to doubt me now because of this. I tried every olive branch. I offered to come down and cook for him for free in South Florida after I get paid. Nothing.”
Says James W. Smith III, Tedeschi’s attorney: “You’ll start to see a pattern where Antonio lures people in initially, and at first he appears to be very gregarious and appreciative of whatever service he’s seeking, and then at some point when the bill is due he creates division or confrontation in an effort to avoid having to meet his financial obligation. . . . It’s an unfortunate pattern of entitlement and narcissism.”
Certainly, Brown’s use of the word “cracker” to describe a white person will sound familiar to anyone who followed his strange journey from Pittsburgh to Oakland to New England, where he agreed a one-year pact worth $10.5 million on September 7. The short-term deal with the perennial Super Bowl contenders fueled speculation that Brown wanted out of Oakland all along and that his behavior—including a heated argument with Raiders general manager Mike Mayock in which Brown reportedly called him a “m-----f---ing cracker” and threatened to punch him—was simply a ploy to be released by the team. (In subsequent reports, Brown denied using that phrase.)
Following an offseason that included Brown’s thoroughly reported helmet saga (in the wake of the rape accusation, Brown lost the endorsement deal with helmet manufacturer Xenith that came at the end of that controversy) and the equally tedious tale of his frostbitten feet—injured during a cryotherapy treatment—and a phone call between Brown and coach Jon Gruden illegally recorded and edited for social media publication by Brown, the Raiders became the second team willing to cut ties with the four-time All-Pro wide receiver in the same offseason. The Patriots, for their part, seem to have done little to no vetting of the receiver before signing him. (Through a spokesperson, the Patriots declined comment for this story.) Taylor, the trainer who filed the suit alleging sexual assault, was scheduled to meet with the NFL on Monday.
The Steelers got something in exchange for Brown—trading him to the Raiders in March for third- and fifth-round picks—but it was an acrimonious end to a spectacular on-field run in Pittsburgh. A close confidant of Brown’s, Torriano Brooks, an assistant coach at Miami Norland High School when Brown was a quarterback there, says that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s criticism of Brown’s route-running on a game-ending interception in Denver last November is what drove Brown’s trade demand.
Brown brushed it off at the time, telling reporters, “I’ve got big shoulders. I can take it. Constructive criticism is only for you to get better. It’s not personal.” Behind closed doors, though, Brooks says that Brown fumed. “He wants to be able to feel that trust with people,” Brooks says. “Once the trust had a crack in it ... I told him, you guys are grown men. Somebody has to be the bigger man.”
Brown would have none of it. He checked out of remaining practices, citing discomfort in his knees. He was benched for a must-win game in Week 17, a victory over Cincinnati.
What happened in Oakland confirmed what Steelers players knew over years of observation; Mike Tomlin, though criticized internally for being too forgiving of Brown’s chronic lateness to meetings and games, was one of the few people in the NFL who could relate to Brown and defuse his worst instincts.
“Antonio’s thing is that when he gets upset he’ll say to a coach, ‘You don’t know what I’ve been through. You don’t know where I’m from,’” a former Steelers teammate told Sports Illustrated. “But Tomlin is a black dude who went from William & Mary to becoming an NFL head coach. He knows that struggle. And he could say, Yes I do know where you’re coming from.”
Where Brown comes from—a childhood of poverty and intermittent homelessness in Miami-Dade County—is a topic he has not often delved into. Information is scattered and uncorroborated, but it’s been reported that his stepfather kicked him out of their home during his teenage years and that he spent months at a time sleeping on teammate’s couches. His father, former arena football star Eddie Brown, was not in the picture.
“A lot of us on the team didn’t have fathers so our coaches ended up being our mentors,” says Chris Williams, a former high school teammate who graduated from Norland the year after Brown. “Finding a place to stay was hard for Tony at the time. Coach Brooks and Coach [James] Upton [also a Norland assistant] stepped in a whole lot for Antonio.”
Brown spent a post-graduate year at a North Carolina prep academy, then enrolled at Central Michigan. When a staffer picked him up from the airport and suggested they go to baggage claim, Brown told him the pair of grocery bags filled with clothes was his only luggage. Those who knew him then describe him as being drawn to authority figures. He found a mentor in head coach Butch Jones and a team chaplain and Michigan State Trooper, Mike White, who passed away in June.
“He always had a smile on his face, that infectious smile that you see on TV,” says former Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour, when asked about Brown earlier this summer. “But once in a while he’d get upset. He had that edge to him as well, and you saw it in the first couple days. You could tell he’d been through a lot, and there was a lot of frustration in his past, like he was holding something in that manifested himself in a certain way, but also made him a great competitor too.”
He kept in touch with Brooks and Upton, and leaned on Jones and White. In Pittsburgh, Tomlin created an environment conducive to a fragile kind of success. But now Brown is out of contact with people like Brooks, who says he hasn’t spoken to his former student in months. His football stardom has afforded him immense power and privilege, which is now going unchecked.
“I’ve been coaching for 19 years now, and all the kids that I’ve coached over the years, I still see them as kids,” Brooks says. “Tony is a person who needs that guidance. There are some kids that have been in Tony’s situation who are doing fine. you see them every once in a while and they go about their business. But he needs that one person. He needs to have that individual in his life to say, ‘Tony you’re really hurting yourself right now.’”
On Sunday, Brown joined the Patriots huddle for their second offensive play of a 43-0 blowout of the Dolphins in Miami. As the crowd buzzed, he lined up in the left slot and caught an 18-yard pass from Brady, one of his four catches—including a touchdown—in his Patriots debut. He may win a Super Bowl in New England. He may not. He may face consequences brought on by those who say he has mistreated and deceived them. He may not. Considering his behavior over the past three years, the only certainty is that Antonio Brown will remain in a white-hot spotlight of his own creation.
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