NFL star punished after allegedly using fake Covid-19 vaccine card
Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown has been suspended without pay for three games following a scandal in which he was accused of using a counterfeit card to prove that he’d been vaccinated against Covid-19.
The National Football League announced the punishment on Thursday, saying that Brown and two other players will be ineligible to play for the next three weeks. The league and the NFLPA players union issued a joint statement, saying that the three players – Brown, Buccaneers safety Mike Edwards and free agent receiver John Franklin III – had accepted their suspensions and wouldn’t file appeals.
An NFL-NFLPA review of accusations against Brown, Edwards and Franklin found that the players violated Covid-19 safety protocols by misrepresenting their vaccination status. Those rules impose tougher restrictions on players who aren’t inoculated, including mask-wearing, social-distancing requirements and a longer quarantine period if they test positive for the virus.
“The protocols were jointly developed working with our respective experts to ensure that we are practicing and playing football as safely as possible during the ongoing pandemic,” the league and union said. “The NFL-NFLPA jointly reinforce their commitment and further emphasize the importance of strict adherence to the protocols to protect the well-being of everyone associated with the NFL.”
Brown’s alleged use of a fake vaccine card came to light last month, when his personal chef told the Tampa Bay Times newspaper that the star receiver offered him $500 to obtain the counterfeit document. The chef, Steven Ruiz, said Brown later showed him fake vaccine cards that he had acquired himself. Ruiz added that he witnessed a personal trainer taking a picture of Brown’s fake card to be provided to the Buccaneers as proof of vaccination.
Unlike a case last month involving Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL apparently found no fault on the part of the team. The league fined the Packers $300,000 for failing to properly enforce Covid-19 rules after Rodgers went to a Halloween party which was off-limits to the players. When allegations against Brown surfaced, the Buccaneers issued a statement saying the team said it had reviewed all vaccination cards provided by team employees and found “no irregularities.”
Brown wanted to avoid being jabbed because he was concerned about how the vaccination would affect his body, according to Ruiz. The receiver tested positive for the virus in September, causing him to miss one game. His lawyer, Sean Burstyn, last month said Brown was vaccinated.
Brown ranks third among all active NFL players in career receiving yards. He has been selected to play in seven Pro Bowls and appeared in two Super Bowls, earning a championship ring when Tampa Bay beat the Kansas City Chiefs last February. He had missed about half of last season for multiple violations of the NFL’s conduct policy.