Schools of Thought

Larger lessons in the story of Antonio Brown

By Erika Sanzi
Posted 9/13/19

Until last week, I had never heard of Antonio Brown. Then, out of nowhere, his name was everywhere I turned. My family—3 sons and a husband—watches a good amount of football but I would …

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Schools of Thought

Larger lessons in the story of Antonio Brown

Posted

Until last week, I had never heard of Antonio Brown. Then, out of nowhere, his name was everywhere I turned. My family—3 sons and a husband—watches a good amount of football but I would not call myself a fan. Sure I root for the Patriots but I do not have enough knowledge or interest to say whether Bill Belichick’s decision to sign Brown was or was not the right thing to do. I do know that behavior and attitude can change drastically when expectations are higher, structure is stepped up, and discipline is a top priority.

There is a reason why “problem students” sometimes cease to be so when they are able to move to a different school or even into a different classroom. Environment matters. Culture is everything.

Antonio Brown’s behavior on his previous NFL teams has been indefensible — sports writer Dan Shaugnnessy of the Boston Globe describes him as “the best receiver in the NFL and an egomaniacal misfit who acted his way out of Pittsburgh and Oakland in the last six months.”

There have been a lot of brilliant and massively talented kids who have acted their way out of schools and off teams only to see themselves transformed by the right leader in a new and different environment. Some have found it in the military, others in a new school, and still others on the field with a new coach.

I don’t have much of a dog in the fight over whether or not the Patriots should or should not have signed Antonio Brown to a one year deal. But I do find the chatter surrounding it reflective of where the larger culture seems to be these days. America appears to be wrestling with the concept of writing people off versus believing in second chances. It is a common refrain that “Americans love a comeback story” and that was certainly on display recently when, after a very public fall from grace, Tiger Woods won The Masters in what many characterized as a ‘“comeback for the ages.” But as polarization increases its reach, it sometimes feels like we are losing our footing when it comes to the possibility for redemption.

Instead of believing in the principle of second—or even third—chances, we seem to be falling into a tribalism that causes us to have different standards for people based on which side or whose team they’re on. We are quick to overlook and forgive the people we consider to be in our tribe and equally quick to lower the boom on those we see as being outside of our tribe.

Patriots Nation will gloat, Patriots haters will hate even harder. But in the story of Antonio Brown I see a bigger story, a story about all the brilliance and talent inside of countless young people who just need to find their way to the people and places who will help them shine.

Antonio Brown is not a kid. He is a grown man being paid millions of dollars to perform on a football team. There is no excuse for his antics in Oakland and Pittsburgh. Maybe he will fall in line with the Patriots and maybe he won’t.

What I do know is that it is possible.

Erika Sanzi is a former educator and school committee member who writes about education and blogs at Good School Hunting.

Erika Sanzi

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