GLENDALE, Ariz. – Antonio Brown has been subject to intense scrutiny in recent weeks, dealing with frostbitten feet and a lost helmet grievance that has gained national attention.
His absence from Raiders training camp while rehabbing his feet in Florida with a specialist was also called into some question by reports that he was gone more for the helmet than his feet, that he went radio silent with the Raiders and that he told them team that he'd retire over the helmet issue.
Brown refuted the retirement claim outright. Head coach Jon Gruden said the Raiders knew what Brown was up to while he was away.
Brown didn't say much publicly during his time away, save a few cryptic social media posts. His impulse wasn't to refute claims or add to fuel to the fire raging around him. He tried to let it lie.
The superstar receiver insists all the negative talk doesn't impact him, but it gets to those in his inner circle.
"People always talk, and try to bring you down," Brown said after the Raiders' 33-26 preseason win over the Cardinals. "I just think it's tough for the people who love me, that they have to hear it when they know the type of person I am and what I stand for.
"I hate it when my mom and my dad call me and say, ‘What the f--k? Retirement? Where'd he get that?' I never said that. That's the hardest part for me as an athlete."
Brown tries to put the criticism in perspective, but admits it's not always easy.
"You have to have tough skin and not pay attention to what people say," Brown said. "Not everybody hates me. Maybe a small percentage do, but I like to focus on the big picture. If you guys could calm it down, man, that would really help my family. (laughter) Can you guys help me out with the stuff that goes out there? I don't mind, but my family gets really stressed out."
Brown considers himself misrepresented, but understands he can't fight back without causing more issues.
"Absolutely I feel misunderstood, but I'm not trying to win people over or make people feel a certain way about me," Brown said. "I'm an athlete. I'm a human being. I have tough skin, but treat me like a human. Treat me with respect. But, through it all, I have a strong heart. Ultimately [all the talk] doesn't matter. Only the people in this locker room and the coaches and the guys who support me and know what's real, they're the ones that matter. I am committed to the cause for those guys."
Brown is also committed to young fans like the young boy he met at State Farm Stadium. Brown signed some autographs after pre-game warmups, and a little boy, maybe five or six, started crying when Brown approached him. Brown gave the boy and his brother a hug, autographs and the gloves he wore to work out.
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It was a centering moment that reminded him of the positive aspects of all this attention, and that not everyone views him in a negative light. Brown was moved by the exchange, which you can see here.
"It absolutely impacts me," Brown said. "It gives me courage and inspiration, knowing that kids are looking at everything I do. Everything I do affects someone. It makes me feel good, that I'm a good leader and a good example. No matter what people write about me or say about me, there are people that ready love me. To have that moment with the kid just makes my heart smile, makes my heart cry to know that, whatever I'm doing, is reaching and inspiring the youth. That's my role. It's bigger than me. It's about inspiring others."