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Antonio Brown’s antics with Raiders could signal deeper issues

The jokes should stop. The clown emojis should be erased.

Everyone had a good laugh while making light of the Antonio Brown-Raiders saga — present company included — but there could be something far more serious beyond the comedy of it.

Brown is gone from the Raiders, the team complying with an early Saturday wish of the star wide receiver, releasing him and officially ending its relationship with a player who never took a snap in Oakland.

Hours later, Brown signed a one-year deal with the Patriots, meaning agent Drew Rosenhaus quickly made good on his word to find a new team for his client.

Here’s a thought: Maybe, if he hasn’t already, Rosenhaus should instead work on getting Brown some help.

We don’t know anything for sure. It’s all speculation.

But while we only saw snippets of Brown’s actions — his bizarre social media posts, his persona on “Hard Knocks,” his me-first attitude with frozen feet and helmet narratives, and reports of him threatening general manager Mike Mayock one day and emotionally apologizing the next — much of it points to a narcissistic disorder that could mask even more mental health issues or early signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

“Not knowing his specific history, whether or not he ever used anabolic steroids or other substances, it’s difficult to pinpoint if something is wrong (mentally),” said Dr. Margaret Goodman, president of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association. “But when you see a lot of changes in personality and outbursts, all are things that absolutely could be initial stages of CTE for an athlete in his sport.

“Football players at that level have taken a lot of hits to the head over time. I certainly don’t think his behavior should be ignored by those closest to him. I would hope things just wouldn’t go on with him joining (the Patriots) without seeing if help is needed. That would be a shame.”

The dark side

We see sports in the light and can’t fathom how selfish and vain some professional athletes act. The money. The fame. The adulation. We don’t see the darkness, so it’s impossible for us to believe those with so much might suffer from and battle the same issues we do.

Liz Cambage recently reminded us differently.

In a first-person essay in The Player’s Tribune, the star center of the Las Vegas Aces chronicled her lifetime battle with mental health.

“I don’t think,” Cambage wrote, “until we’re ready to get real about how mental health can be this dark and even losing battle — that we’ll be ready to take the next step in this conversation.”

We don’t know what, if anything, from which Brown might suffer. Maybe he’s simply a giant egomaniac who has been coddled and enabled and did everything in his power to get cut from the Raiders so he could go catch passes from Tom Brady.

Or maybe this is all a cry for help.

We also don’t see what many athletes put into their bodies behind closed doors that might lead to a sculpted physique and the ability to train even through injury, and yet could also have a direct link to mental illness.

We hear an audio of Raiders coach Jon Gruden talking to Brown on the telephone and merely telling the player, “Just play football.”

Maybe that’s part of the problem.

Issues won’t disappear

I’m sure Gruden was genuine in his words and he absolutely played the role of Good Cop amid all of Brown’s escapades. But while it’s not the job of the Raiders to be at the forefront of diagnosing potential mental health issues for a player, perhaps the root of all this rests in the compete-at-all-costs nature of the NFL. Just play.

The easy thing is to rip the Raiders for the trade or Brown for, well, everything, to crack more jokes and post more GIFs and emojis, to assume we know what makes him act as he does.

Twitter will have more than its share of all that, because the fact he so quickly signed with the hated Patriots will create a firestorm of hostility and conspiracy theories.

But heading to New England and having a terrific season and perhaps even winning a Super Bowl won’t magically erase any mental issues Brown might have.

And if his antics with the Raiders didn’t at least raise a red flag or two, that this is a person potentially in need of help, I’m really not sure what folks were watching.

Upon learning the news of his release from the Raiders, Brown posted a video of himself running through his backyard screaming, “I’m free!”

From a certain team, yes.

But what about from himself?

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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