Shortly after a bombshell report emerged last month that Tampa Bay Buccaneers star wide receiver Antonio Brown allegedly used a fake COVID-19 vaccination card earlier this year to get around certain NFL health and safety protocols, the Buccaneers reportedly responded to a source that they had "no evidence" to back that story. The NFL announced it was looking into the matter even before Steven Ruiz, Brown's former live-in chef who made the original claim about the receiver, said that Brown obtained the alleged fake vaccination card from a teammate.
The league dropped the hammer down on Brown and two others on Thursday.
Per Grant Gordon of the NFL's website, Brown, Buccaneers backup safety Mike Edwards and free-agent receiver John Franklin III have been suspended three games without pay for violating NFL-NFL Players Association COVID-19 protocols. As ESPN notes, all three accepted their bans after the league ruled they misrepresented their vaccination statuses.
The Buccaneers waived Franklin in August.
Free agent John Franklin III, if signed by a club, is also ineligible to play in the next three games. All three players have accepted the discipline and waived their right of appeal. The suspensions are effective immediately.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 2, 2021
"The health and safety of players and personnel is our top priority," the NFL and NFLPA said in a joint statement shared by the Buccaneers. "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 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 Buccaneers added:
"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."
Brown hasn't played since he suffered an ankle injury on Oct. 14 and was expected to miss at least two additional games before this latest development. He and Edwards are eligible to return when the Buccaneers travel for a road game at the Carolina Panthers on Dec. 26.
Additionally, the Buccaneers are not being punished regarding the matter:
Meanwhile, Brown's attorney responded to the news: