Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown and two other players were suspended on Thursday (Dec. 2) for violating NFL-NFL Players Association COVID-19 protocols, the league announced.
Brown, along with the Bucs’ safety Mike Edwards and free-agent wide receiver John Franklin III, must sit out their next three games. Brown and Edwards are eligible to return for the team’s game on Dec. 26 against the Carolina Panthers. Franklin is ineligible to play the next three games if a team signs him.
The suspensions stem from an investigation into allegations that the players misrepresented their vaccination status, including an accusation that Brown purchased a fake COVID-19 vaccination card.
"The health and safety of players and personnel is our top priority," a joint NFL-NFLPA statement read. "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.."
An unnamed source told ESPN that the three players admitted wrongdoing to the league’s investigators and are now vaccinated.
On Nov. 18, The Tampa Bay Times reported that Brown’s former live-in chef Steven Ruiz accused the Bucs star of obtaining a fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination card to avoid NFL protocols.
The Times said Brown’s girlfriend Cydney Moreau allegedly sent a July 2 text to Ruiz saying Brown would pay $500 for a Johnson & Johnson vaccination card. Ruiz went public about the deal after he was unsuccessful at collecting a $10,000 debt he claimed Brown owed him.
After the newspaper report, Brown’s lawyer Sean Burstyn told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport that Brown was indeed vaccinated, a statement that he maintained on Thursday, according to NFL.com.
"Mr. Brown is vaccinated and continues to support the vaccine for any person for whom it is appropriate," Burstyn stated.
League officials did not fine the Buccaneers, who assisted in the NFL’s investigation.
"We appreciate the league's timely handling of this matter and recognize the importance of the health and safety protocols that have been established. We will continue to implement all league COVID-19 protocols," the team stated after the league announced the suspensions.
Teams are responsible for verifying their players’ vaccine status, according to NFL.com. Attempts to use fake vaccination documents violate the league’s personal conduct rules.
After the Times report, the Bucs stated that all of their players submitted COVID-19 vaccination cards and team personnel found “no irregularities.”
Unnamed sources told ESPN that the league’s investigation discovered that Brown submitted a fraudulent vaccine card at training camp. But Brown later decided to get vaccinated after someone told him about the consequences of using a fake document.