Saga of Antonio Brown's absence from Raiders takes bizarre turn with 'helmetgate'

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Antonio Brown is threatening to never play football again, apparently telling the Raiders Friday he’s done unless the NFL loosens its rule and allows him to wear his old helmet, ESPN reported.

Brown spent two hours on a call with league officials trying to convince them to let him wear a 10-year-old helmet that the NFL has since banned because it doesn’t meet the league’s new safety standards, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

When the Raiders were reached for comment, they told the Mercury News, “The Raiders are aware of and are supportive of Antonio, but have no other comment.”

Whether Brown would actually quit the game because of his dispute is a matter of conjecture. He signed a three-year, $50.125 million deal after joining the Raiders, with a little more than $30 million of it guaranteed. Would Brown, who admits money is important to him, really walk away from $30 million because of his helmet preference? Not to mention, he’d likely have to return the $19 million signing bonus portion of his guaranteed money he’s already collected.

Raiders coach Jon Gruden, when contacted by the Mercury News for his reaction to Brown’s hardline stance, didn’t offer a comment.

The mercurial wide receiver has been absent from training camp in Napa with blistered feet suffered in a cryogenic machine mishap, but he’s now so chapped about having to wear a new helmet that he filed a grievance against the NFL.

A decision on Brown’s grievance may come as early as next week, ESPN reported.

In the meantime, the NFL Network’s Mike Silver reported that Brown has tried to sneak his old helmet, repainted to nearly match the Raiders’ helmet design, onto the practice field. But his effort was squashed in Napa — the Raiders are motivated to keep him from using that helmet under threat of NFL discipline if any player uses an unapproved helmet.

The seven-time Pro Bowler has complained the new league-approved helmets make it more difficult for him to see the ball. Brown isn’t alone in his disappointment about some old-style helmets being legislated out of the league.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady also wanted to keep wearing his old helmet — but hasn’t threatened to walk away from the game over it.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is among 30 other players who must change their helmets to abide by the NFL’s guidelines.

One Raiders coach told Silver he can’t believe all the fuss over the helmet.

“Honestly, the most insane thing I have ever heard,” the coach said. “I don’t know why it’s so important to him. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Obviously, Brown’s comfort level with his helmet is vital to him. But the helmet he’s worn throughout his career is apparently now discontinued after the National Operating Committee for Standards and Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) refused to certify it or any helmet older than 10 years old.

If Brown’s desire to keep his old helmet is a distraction to the team, it apparently isn’t the only time he’s taken the focus off the team in training camp. Brown has reportedly been frequently late to team meetings, and doesn’t always appear engaged once he’s there.

Some unnamed Raiders sources told the NFL Network that Brown often looks at one of his tablets or his phone while in a meeting. One source said Brown often checks out his bank accounts or flips through Instagram posts.

Still, it’s Brown’s fussing over the helmet that remains the biggest complaint within the locker room.

“He’s still freaking out about it,” one Raiders player told NFL Network. “He hasn’t been here for awhile, and no one knows where he’s at.”

Perhaps in keeping with what feels like the absurdity of Brown’s threat, we have O.J. Simpson weighing in on Twitter. Simpson, who may or may not know a thing or two about motives, isn’t buying this one.

“If you’re telling me he’s willing to give up that kind of money because of the style of the helmet ... look, if you don’t want to go to training camp, don’t go,” Simpson said Friday. “But giving up that money because of the helmet? I call B.S.”

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