In response to the allegation that Tampa Bay Buccaneers star Antonio Brown used a forged COVID-19 vaccination card to circumvent the NFL’s safety protocols, the league announced on Friday that it is launching an investigation into the star wide receiver’s vaccine status. “We are aware of the report and have been in contact with the club. We will review the matter,” NFL vice president of communications Brian McCarthy told CNN. “No club has reported any issues during the verification process,” added McCarthy, before noting that “any attempt by team personnel or players to use a forged or fake card would be reviewed under the personal conduct policy. In addition, it is a federal criminal offense.”
The league’s pandemic safety measures state that every team is responsible for verifying the vaccination status of all of their team members, as unvaccinated players and coaches are required to follow a stricter set of guidelines. The accusations against Brown were first brought to light by the player’s former live-in chef, Steven Ruiz, who told the Tampa Bay Times that Brown’s girlfriend, Cydney Moreau, asked him to obtain “COVID cards” for the couple in July. “JNJ shot. Ab said he would give you $500,” Moreau allegedly wrote in a text message. While Ruiz said that he was unable to provide them, the chef claimed that he later witnessed Brown showing off fraudulent vaccination cards that he obtained elsewhere. Ruiz spoke to the Tampa Bay Times after his relationship with Brown dissolved after the player allegedly didn’t pay him the $10,000 owed to the chef. According to Sports Illustrated, Brown reportedly has a history of unpaid debts. (Brown did not respond to the Tampa Bay Times’ messages left on his cell phone.)
Brown’s attorney, Sean Burstyn, released a statement denying Ruiz’s claims: “Mr. Brown confirmed to me that he was vaccinated and, if a booster eventually becomes advisable, he’ll be happy to air it live on TV. He is happy to turn this into an opportunity to advocate for the safety of vaccines, and finds it a bit confusing that the source of this story would admit to attempting to procure and resell fake vaccination cards.” Burstyn went on to say that Brown “is healthy, vaccinated, and ready to win another Super Bowl” and referred to the report as “baseless, vindictive tabloid gossip.” As for the Buccaneers, the team said it “received completed vaccination cards” from all of its players and “submitted the required information to the NFL through the established process in accordance with league policy. All vaccination cards were reviewed by Buccaneers personnel and no irregularities were observed.”
The booming fake-vaccine-card business has already impacted other professional leagues. In the NHL, San Jose Sharks left winger Evander Kane received a 21-game suspension without pay “for an established violation” of the league’s COVID-19 protocols. And in recent months, a number of fake-vaccine-card sellers have been caught in the U.S., including New Jersey woman Jasmine Clifford who is facing charges for pedaling roughly 250 forgeries via her @AntiVaxMomma Instagram account. To add an air of legitimacy, Clifford’s alleged conspirator entered some of her customers’ names into the New York immunization database.
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