The NFL suspended three players, including Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown, on Thursday for violating COVID-19 protocols.
Brown, Bucs teammate Mike Edwards and free agent John Franklin III are ineligible to play the next three weeks and won’t be paid during that period. All three have waived their right to appeal, meaning the suspensions go into effect immediately.
The Tampa Bay Times reported last month that Brown obtained a fake vaccination card to bypass the NFL’s virus protocols.
The league did not specifically reveal how the players, who were represented by the NFL Players Association during a review of their cases, circumvented the protocols. But the NFL offered in a statement that the “players misrepresented their vaccination status under the NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 Protocols. That review supported those allegations and found that the three players violated the protocols.”
The league and union said in a joint statement: “The health and safety of players and personnel is our top priority. 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.”
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Falsifying COVID-19 vaccination cards is a federal offense. NFL teams are responsible for verifying staff and player vaccination status, and they must present their vaccination cards to team medical staff. No team reported fake vaccination cards this summer. Many team personnel, players and family members received shots at club facilities.
Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians announced prior to the regular season’s start that his roster was 100% vaccinated.
“We appreciate the League’s timely handling of this matter and recognize the importance of the healthy and safety protocols that have been established,” the Buccaneers said in a statement Thursday.
“We will continue to implement all league COVID-19 protocols.”
Brown, 33, went on the reserve/COVID-19 list in late September. The seven-time Pro Bowler hasn’t played since injuring his ankle in a Week 6 win against the Philadelphia Eagles. To date, he has 29 receptions for 418 yards and four touchdowns for the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Edwards, a safety, has played in 11 games (3 starts) and intercepted three passes. Franklin hasn’t played since 2019 and spent the 2020 season on injured reserve for the Buccaneers.
The Bucs, who own first place in the NFC South with an 8-3 record, visit the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon.
Contributing: Mike Jones
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.