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Antonio Brown among 3 NFL players suspended for misrepresenting COVID-19 vaccination status

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown was suspended for the next three games after misrepresenting his COVID-19 vaccination status, the NFL announced Thursday.

Brown is one of three NFL players to be suspended without pay for the next three games. Buccaneers cornerback Mike Edwards and free-agent cornerback John Franklin III were also suspended.

The three players waived their right to appeal the suspensions. Brown and Edwards will serve their bans immediately. Franklin will serve his suspension if he's picked up by an NFL team.

The Buccaneers issued a brief statement Thursday thanking the league for its "timely handling" of the matter.

In September, Bucs coach Bruce Arians claimed his team was 100 percent vaccinated against COVID-19. Arians stood by that claim when asked about Brown's vaccination status in November, saying the team did its "due diligence" when looking into the matter. The Buccaneers released a statement at the time, saying the team reviewed all COVID-19 vaccination cards and "no irregularities were observed."

NFL, NFLPA release joint statement on suspensions

The NFL and the players union released a joint statement Thursday affirming player safety is the No. 1 priority around the league.

The league and union stood by the NFL's health and safety protocols, which were jointly developed by the NFL and NFLPA.

Antonio Brown accused of purchasing counterfeit COVID-19 vaccine cards

Brown's vaccination status came under fire in November, when a report from the Tampa Bay Times alleged Brown paid for counterfeit COVID-19 vaccine cards before training camp. Brown’s former live-in chef Steven Ruiz provided text messages in which Brown's girlfriend allegedly offered to pay Ruiz $500 for a counterfeit vaccine card for Brown. Ruiz said he was not able to provide a fake card to Brown, but that Brown claimed he purchased one a few weeks after the initial text.

The NFL did not confirm that story or provide specifics on its investigation. The league said it heard allegations those players misrepresented their vaccination statuses and that a "review supported those allegations and found that the three players violated the protocols."

In a statement Thursday, Ruiz said the NFL's ruling proves the information he sent to the Tampa Bay Times was accurate. Ruiz also called Brown's 3-game suspension "a minor punishment."

Brown's lawyer released a statement Thursday claiming Brown is vaccinated and "continues to support the vaccine for any person for whom it is appropriate."

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 14: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wide Receiver Antonio Brown (81) looks on during the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on October 14, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 14: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wide Receiver Antonio Brown (81) looks on during the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on October 14, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)