FOXBOROUGH -- A few hours after Patriots head coach Bill Belichick addressed the sexual assault allegations surrounding new New England wide receiver Antonio Brown during his daily press conference, Brown’s new teammates were also asked about the situation and the potential distraction it presents.
Brown is the defendant in a civil lawsuit alleging both sexual assault and rape of a former friend and trainer. Brown made his Patriots practice field debut on Wednesday, wearing a temporary, white No. 1 practice jersey but did not appear in the New England locker room after practice and was not made available to the media.
Not surprisingly given the circumstances, Patriots players didn’t have too much to say about their new teammate’s issues, even a player as experienced and professional as special teams captain Matthew Slater who is often leaned on as a sort of team spokesman in New England.
“First I’ll say I certainly don’t want to minimize the seriousness of a situation like this. Very sensitive matter and don’t want to minimize it at all,” Slater said. “But that being said, I certainly don’t think that I should be speaking on it or I’m qualified to speak on it because I don’t have any knowledge of the situation. So I think as a leader of this team standing before you guys speaking on behalf of the team and not necessarily on behalf of myself I think that it’s important that we try to focus on doing our job as professionals this week and try to go about preparation and being ready to play a game on Sunday. But certainly I’m sensitive to this situation and what is out there.”
Fellow captain Devin McCourty also blended respectful sensitivity with the reality that the Patriots as a collective group have work to do regardless of what’s going on around them.
“The locker room as a whole has a job to try and prepare to play this game, but like you said, it’s serious. I don’t think anyone sits in here and doesn’t realize how serious that situation is and everything,” McCourty said. “But, I think from a football standpoint we have to be prepared to go out there and play against the Dolphins on Sunday because that is what our job calls on us to do. I am sure just like you guys everyone in this locker room has different opinions and all that, but at the end of the day when we come in here, our job is to prepare and play no matter what is going on.”
There is also the process, which may be more difficult now, of Brown working his way into the team, both on the field as a player and off of it as a teammate.
“I believe that when you come in this locker room and you have a locker in this particular locker room that it’s always been a family environment, a brotherhood,” Slater said. “And you always try to support people that are working alongside you to achieve a common goal. But, again, this is a unique situation, I don’t want to minimize the serious nature of it. But again I don’t feel as though I’m qualified to really speak to it because I don’t know anything about it.”
And while it may be a brotherhood, proving yourself to the brotherhood is not immediate.
“Well it’s certainly a process. Accountability and trust are a big part of the brotherhood,” Slater said. “That’s something you try to build day by day. So certainly we’ve always been welcoming here, but brotherhood is a process. It’s a never-ending process. So certainly that’s how it is with anyone who comes in this locker room.”
“Everybody is welcome. You have a fresh start when you come in this locker room,” offensive captain James White said. “Everybody accepts everybody. Everybody talks to everybody. So I mean as long as you come in here and work and you’re a good teammate then it will work out just fine.”
One thing that Slater definitely wasn’t looking to discuss was just how much of a distraction Brown’s arrival and immediate legal issues really is.
“Respect that question. I really don’t feel like that’s something that I want to get into. I don’t want to really get into that, what kind of distraction this is,” Slater said.
Both Slater and McCourty also said it was too early to really tell what kind of teammate Brown is after just a single practice. Before the sexual assault allegations and civil lawsuit came to light, Brown had a tumultuous short-term tenure with the Raiders that saw him essentially shoot his way out of Oakland through social media.
“I’m still getting to know him as he is getting to know all of us. So I think it’s a littler early on to really comment on that,” Slater said of Brown as a teammate.