Antonio Brown, 2 others suspended for violating COVID rules

Sports

Indianapolis Colts’ Zach Pascal (14) fumbles as he is hit by Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Mike Edwards (32) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

NEW YORK (AP) — Antonio Brown and two other NFL players have been suspended immediately for three games by the league for violating COVID-19 protocols.

The Tampa Bay wide receiver and teammate Mike Edwards were suspended Thursday. Free agent John Franklin III, if signed by a team, 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.

The NFL Players Association, which developed the protocols along with the league, represented the three players during a review of the recent allegations that players misrepresented their vaccination status. Brown, Edwards, a cornerback, and Franklin, a defensive back who last played for the Bucs in 2019, were found in violation of the protocols.

“The health and safety of players and personnel is our top priority,” the NFL and NFLPA said in a joint statement. “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 issued a brief statement in response to the league action.

“We appreciate the league’s timely handling of this matter and recognize the importance of the health and safety protocols that have been established,” the statement read. “We will continue to implement all league COVID-19 protocols.”

Brown joined Tampa Bay midway through last season after serving an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. He helped the Bucs win the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history.

The 33-year-old receiver, who has 29 catches for 418 yards and four touchdowns this season, has missed the past five games with an ankle injury. He also sat out the team’s Week 3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams after testing positive for COVID-19.

The Bucs (8-3) are 5-0 when he plays this season, 3-3 without him.

Edwards, meanwhile, is a backup safety who’s started two games and been a key contributor on a defense that’s been riddled by injuries. The third-year pro leads the club with three interceptions, two of which he’s returned for TDs.

The suspensions come two weeks after a Los Angeles chef told the Tampa Bay Times that Brown obtained a fake COVID-19 vaccination card shortly before the start of training camp in July. The newspaper reported that Steven Ruiz provided a screenshot of a text message exchange in which Brown’s girlfriend asked the player’s former live-in chef if he could obtain Johnson & Johnson vaccination cards.

When the personal chef replied he could try, the girlfriend responded “Ab said he would give you $500.”

Ruiz, who also claimed Brown owes him an uncollected debt of $10,000, told the newspaper he was unable to find a vaccination card for Brown.

The chef added that a few weeks later he observed two vaccine cards on a dining room table that the receiver told him were purchased for the player and his girlfriend.

The Bucs announced shortly before the start of the regular season that their entire roster and coaching staff were fully vaccinated.

Without specifically addressing Brown’s situation, the Bucs said two weeks ago that the team had received and reviewed completed vaccination cards from all players and “no irregularities were observed.”

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