Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown has been suspended three games for violating the NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 protocols, the league announced Thursday.
The league and players’ union found that Brown was among three players who misrepresented their vaccination status. A former personal chef of Brown’s said earlier this month that the wide receiver had obtained a fake COVID-19 vaccination card over the summer.
Also suspended for three games were Buccaneers backup safety Mike Edwards and free-agent wide receiver John Franklin III, whom Tampa Bay waived in August. All three players accepted their discipline and will not appeal, according to the NFL.
Brown’s and Edwards’ suspensions are without pay. Both will be eligible to return to the Buccaneers lineup for the team’s Dec. 26 game against the Carolina Panthers.
“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,” the league and players’ union said in a statement.
Brown was not expected to play in the next two games because of an ankle and heel injury that has kept him out since Week 7, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Wednesday. Edwards, who has lined up at safety and nickelback, forced a fumble in last week’s win over the Indianapolis Colts and leads the team with three interceptions.
Chef Steven Ruiz said earlier this month that Brown had his girlfriend, model Cydney Moreau, reach out to him over the summer to obtain a fake vaccination card. After Ruiz was unable to acquire a fake card for Brown, he said the wide receiver a few weeks later showed him ones he had for himself and Moreau that he said he had purchased.
Ruiz told ESPN that Brown had obtained his fake vaccine card from a Buccaneers teammate. Ruiz declined to name the other player.
Brown’s attorney, Sean Burstyn, had denied that Brown obtained a fake vaccine card.
A day after Ruiz’s initial allegation, Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians said the team did its “due diligence” in vetting player’s vaccine cards, adding “I really don’t think it’s a story.”
“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 Buccaneers said in a statement Thursday.