Each year an unexpected star emerges from Hard Knocks, and this season it’s Antonio Brown’s feet — which are a horror show. The show never really outlined what precisely was wrong with Brown’s feet outside of him suffering “an injury,” but now we know.
Brace yourself, because you’re about to see them and I’m not going to be responsible for what happens when you do.
Brown later gave an extended look of the monstrosities to the Hard Knocks cameras:
“My feet is pretty much getting circumcised,” he said. OK then!
Some quick observations about Brown’s feet.
- Brown’s big toes look like Goombas from Super Mario Bros.
- It’s like he’s wearing a skin suit, and the feet tore.
- If the floor is lava then these feet are baklava.
I’m needing to tell jokes to cope with this. Give me this, OK?
Seriously, what is happening here?
Brown reported to training camp with the Raiders and team doctors discovered he was suffering from serious frostbite on his feet. Over time this has resulted in the skin sloughing off his feet in sheets, as seen above — and that has led to him being able to participate very minimally in training camp thus far.
There’s no firm timetable on when Brown can return to the field, as he’s been referred to a foot specialist to treat the injury.
How did Brown get frostbite on his feet?
Many athletes are now opting for Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) as a means to either supplement traditional ice baths, or replace them entirely. This involves standing in a sealed room and being exposed to extremely cold, dry air for a period of 2-3 minutes. Temperatures are normally below -100 degrees, with liquid nitrogen and refrigerated air being used to blast the person receiving treatment.
The efficacy of this treatment is relatively unknown. While WBC has been around since the 1970s in Japan, its rise to prominence to treat athletes has really only started in the last 5-10 years. The belief is that WBC operates similarly to ice baths or ice-pack therapy, but at a much more pronounced level — treating minor injuries like muscle sprains and skin lesions quickly.
However, there are obvious risks associated too. Naturally the body isn’t meant to sustain these kind of temperatures, so precautions are typically taken to avoid any lasting damage. This includes the subject wearing a headband to cover the ears, a mask to avoid directly breathing in the cold air, and special dry socks or shoes, designed to provide a layer between the body and the ground.
It’s here where Brown went wrong:
Cryotherapy in France, apparently. (French people are too chill, no pun intended. If you know me, you know I love France but I wouldn't get that done there.)— Michele Steele (@ESPNMichele) August 7, 2019
According to a report from Pro Football Talk, Brown entered the cryochamber without appropriate footwear.
Brown went into more graphic detail about his “cold therapy” during the second episode of Hard Knocks.
“I got out, and I felt my foot burning,” Brown recounted to the cameras. “The next, like, 24 hours it swelled up. It got really big. I couldn’t really walk or put pressure. The doctor came over, drained a little out. Scalpel the next day. Freakin’ scissors the next day. Just kind of let it leak all out. As everything leaked all out, I was able to put a little pressure.”
This caused the frostbite, which is now a serious concern for the Raiders as the regular season draws near.
What is the timetable for his recovery?
This is the tricky part. It’s unclear when precisely Brown suffered the frostbite, but judging from the photo on his Instagram this is more serious that Stage 1 frostbite (sometimes referred to as “frostnip”). In cases of Stage 1 frostbite the skin typically takes on a reddish hue, often peeling similarly to a sunburn. This can last a few days, up to several weeks until full sensation returns to the affected area.
What makes frostbite diagnosis tricky is that no two cases are identical. However, the photo tends to support the idea that Brown has Stage 2 frostbite, which is characterized with either blistering, or hardened skin — which cracks and peels off. The real risk here is that Brown has done damage to the blood vessels in his feet, which, according to the Summit Medical Group, can take up to six weeks to be revealed.
Brown has participated in just one practice out of 11 this summer, but Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the Raiders said the injury is mostly a “non-issue” for them.
Vik Tafur of The Athletic said that Brown had laser treatment performed on his feet, according to agent Drew Rosenhaus. Rosenhaus wouldn’t go into detail on how Brown’s feet became burned, citing that there could be legal action stemming from the incident.
Feet aside, there’s another issue going on ...
OK, so what is going on with Brown’s helmet?
While many assumed Brown was away from the team due to his foot injury, that wasn’t entirely accurate:
Also FWIW: Antonio Brown’s recent absence from Raiders’ camp has more to do with his helmet grievance than this blistered feet, per league sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 9, 2019
According to Schefter, Brown filed a grievance against the NFL because the helmet that he’s worn his entire career is no longer allowed. Brown wants to continue wearing his preferred helmet, which is not certified by the National Operating Committee for Standards and Athletic Equipment since it’s more than 10 years old.
Here’s a sampling of a 20-tweet thread from NFL Network’s Mike Silver:
6) The pushback began in May, when the receiver was informed by the Raiders that the NFL had officially eliminated the one-year grace period for certain helmet models, including the one worn by Brown, which had fallen short in laboratory testing for head-impact severity...— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) August 9, 2019
However, Brown’s appeal was denied, leaving him with the following options: take his case to federal court, wear an NFL-approved helmet, or not play.
Despite reports that Brown would retire if he didn’t get to wear his helmet, the Raiders have remained supportive and Brown promised he’d return:
He’s also looking for a newer version of his preferred helmet — on that was made in 2010 or later — to wear this upcoming season. Although he found one, it failed the NFL’s testing, which means Brown will have to track down another model or win his second grievance against the league.
When will Brown play again?
The good news is that Raiders coach Jon Gruden confirmed that he expects Brown to be ready to go for the season opener against the Broncos. Brown even participated in warmups before their Week 2 preseason game against the Cardinals:
Antonio Brown looks comfortable running routes, and finishing with a dunk over the crossbar. pic.twitter.com/vTJdi1tlJw— Scott Bair (@BairNBCS) August 15, 2019
The bad news is that the next day, after the helmet he found didn’t pass inspection, Brown missed another practice. General manager Mike Mayock wasn’t happy, saying Brown needs to be “all-in or all-out.”
“We hope AB is going to be a big part of it starting Week 1 against Denver,” Mayock said.
Brown returned to practice, though he filed a new grievance about his helmet.
So while Brown’s feet seem healed enough for him to play in Week 1, the helmet issue is still putting his status in doubt.