When is a non-story a story? When it’s actually a story.
Despite stubborn insistence from the Buccaneers and coach Bruce Arians that claim that receiver Antonio Brown used a fake vaccination card had no merit, the league has suspended Brown three games for misrepresenting his vaccination status.
Brown has accepted his discipline and will not appeal the fine.
Also suspended three games for misrepresenting their vaccination status were safety Mike Edward and receiver John Franklin III. The Bucs waived Franklin in August, and he currently is not with any team.
The allegations first arose two weeks ago today, with the NFL saying nothing before today about the situation other than it remains “under review.” Thursday’s announcement explains that the review included the NFL Players Association representing the three individuals, although there will be no appeal hearing. Like Brown, Edwards and Franklin have accepted their punishment.
“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 development working with our respective experts to ensure that we are practicing and playing football as safety 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.”
“There is no story,” Arians told Rich Eisen on November 19. “Yeah, [Brown] says he’s vaccinated and has a card, just like everybody else on our football team. There’s a trust factor that goes along with it, and we did our due diligence on everybody. The league will look into the matter and do their due diligence, but it’s really no story.”
There definitely is a story, even if the NFL and NFLPA have done their best to carefully craft a press release that downplays the situation. Yes, Brown “misrepresented his vaccination status.” More specifically, Brown submitted a false vaccination card in order to realize the benefits of being a vaccinated player without being a vaccinated player.
That’s a big deal. That’s the most significant violation of the COVID protocol that a player could commit, given the stark difference between treatment of vaccinated and unvaccinated players under the 2021 procedures.
Should the punishment for potentially endangering teammates and coaches (including Arians, a three-time cancer survivor, and 83-year-old offensive consultant Tom Moore) be a mere three games? Should Brown, given his history of Personal Conduct Policy violations, have gotten only three games like the other two, since the league made it clear from the get-go that this was a conduct policy issue?
Ultimately, the league and the union may have done the bare minimum here, in order to tiptoe around the inescapable next question. If three members of the Buccaneers lied about their vaccination status, how many other players on how many other teams did the same?