How many chances does a poor attitude deserve?
Antonio Brown, most recently a wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, made the news in early January for taking off some of his equipment, his jersey and undershirt, and leaving the stadium during the third quarter of the game against the New York Jets.
That wasn’t the first time Mr. Brown made the news or was released from an NFL team. Other incidences include tossing furniture out of a 14th-floor apartment, driving more than 100 mph, sexual assault, unpaid fees, burglary, and more. A bare-chested walk-out seems minor in comparison.
I don’t know what the underlying issue is with Mr. Brown. Perhaps he has a mental health issue. Maybe he has a toxic mix of entitlement and arrogance. Or maybe he experienced trauma as a child that is now leading him to act out.
What I do know is that he is an exceptional football player. In his second NFL season, Mr. Brown became the first player in NFL history to have more than 1,000 yards receiving and returning in the same year. In 2013, he was the first NFL player to have at least five receptions and 50 yards in every single game he played of the NFL season. He has more than enough accomplishments in football to demonstrate he is indeed a talented player.
Even with those football skills, I strongly, firmly, and completely believe that Mr. Brown did not deserve his most recent chance at NFL football with the Bucs, and that he absolutely does not deserve another chance now.
Prior to the Bucs, he had played for the Steelers, Raiders (kind of, he was released before ever playing a game), and Patriots, each time having a list of incidences that resulted in or contributed to his release from the teams.
How does a player like Mr. Brown continually get chances in the NFL?
The same reasons an employee who has a bad attitude gets to keep their job or easily finds a new one once let go from another one. The number-one reason, in my opinion, is that our society tends to allow talent to trump everything else, including a poor attitude, bratty behaviors, or even illegal activities.
Other reasons include holding on to hope that they will change their attitude or behavior, and the lack of leadership to be firm, set boundaries, and handle the problem swiftly and appropriately.
Mr. Brown is an exceptional football player. But his actions and attitude are inexcusable. In his case, and as is the case at many businesses, performance trumps everything else.
And that should never be the reality.
We shouldn’t tolerate unbecoming behavior, negative attitudes, arrogance, poor team performance, or any other such actions just because someone adds great value. We should address it, put a plan in place to correct it, and stick to the consequences if it does not change.
When we do allow performance to overshadow any negatives that are also present, we are favoring one person over the others. We are communicating to them that attitude doesn’t matter if you perform better or add more value. We are also likely stifling the value that the rest of the team might deliver, because, when one person’s poor behavior is tolerated or ignored by leadership, it brings the entire team down.
It leads to less motivated team members. It leads to disengaged and actively disengaged team members.
I hope Antonio Brown gets what he needs to improve his behavior and attitude. Whether it is professional help or rock bottom for a change in mindset. He would have been an even better player without the disgusting behavior and arrogance. And, although I don’t believe he deserves another chance with an NFL team right now, I do believe people can change. Including Mr. Brown, and including the employee who outperforms others but treats the rest of the team like trash.
But I do not think people will change while still in the same setting, being allowed to continue to act out yet get what they want. An NFL career or a great job.
It is a leader’s responsibility to handle that issue and to never let performance trump poor behavior, a negative attitude, or any other reprehensible actions.
The unintended consequences and impact on the rest of the team is bigger than we often realize.
Jackie Krawczak is president of Jackie Krawczak LLC. Her column runs every three weeks on Thursdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.