TAMPA, Fla. — Editor's note: The video in the player above is from when the NFL suspended Antonio Brown and Mike Edwards for misrepresenting their vaccination status.
"Yeah, it pisses me off. But it is what it is."
Those are the words of Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians one day after wide receiver Antonio Brown and safety Mike Edwards were suspended for three games without pay by the NFL.
A third player, free agent John Franklin III, if signed by the club, would also be ineligible to play for three games.
The suspensions come as a result of a league review that found the three players misrepresented their vaccination status in violation of COVID-19 protocols. The review stemmed from a report by Rick Stroud at the Tampa Bay Times, who recently published an article in which Brown's former live-in chef accused him of getting a fake vaccine card.
"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," read a league statement released Thursday. 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."
According to Arians, amid the news, the team's main focus is on its matchup with the Atlanta Falcons on Dec. 5. For now, the Bucs are looking at Brown and Edwards as being "hurt."
"Alright, obviously we have two guys suspended. The league did their due diligence and, uhm, we move on. I will not address those guys for the next three weeks, they'll just be working out, and then we'll address their future at that time. Other than that, there's really nothing to say," Arians said to open up the media availability.
Brown's lawyer, Sean Burstyn, who previously denied the Times' report, maintains that the Bucs wide receiver is vaccinated, and he "continues to support the vaccine for any person to whom it is appropriate."
"The NFL made its determination and, instead of going through the drawn out and distracting process of challenging the outcome, Mr. Brown wrapped this up promptly and he will make this most of this time by treating his ankle injury," Burstyn said.
Before the suspensions, the Buccaneers had released a statement saying personnel had previously reviewed vaccination cards from all players and that "no irregularities were observed." The NFL will not fine the Bucs for the subsequent revelations.
To date, Arians said the Buccaneers have done all they can to ensure COVID-safety, adding that the team has never had an outbreak in a position room.
"I will say this. In the last two years, I don't know if there's been a team better against COVID than we have been, alright, this is a setback because of what happened but we have done an amazing job," he said.
As the NFL sticks to its line that Brown "misrepresented" his vaccination status and his side maintains that he's vaccinated, the conversations on social media continue to swirl — asking did he use a fake vaccination card like the Times reported?
As reporters work to sort out the facts, some people have wondered: What could happen, legally, if the Bucs wide receiver did just that?
Well, the FBI has warned that creating or buying a fake vaccination card is a criminal offense carrying fines and up to 5 years in prison.
According to the FBI, there are different federal statutes that can be used to prosecute cases involving fake cards. The severity of the case would dictate which statutes would be used to bring a perpetrator to justice.
Some of the statutes that can be used for prosecution in such cases are:
- Government seals wrongfully used (18 USC 1017) which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine.
- Embezzlement and theft of public money, property, or record (18 USC 641), which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and a fine.
- Wire fraud (18 USC 1343), which carries a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison and a fine.
Other penalties can come through violating COVID-19 mandates, including falsifying a vaccination card, which is a misdemeanor that can result in a fine of up to $5,000, and up to a year in prison.
10 Tampa Bay reached out to the FBI and local law enforcement to see if any investigation into the matter is underway.
"Thank you for contacting FBI Tampa. However, as a matter of longstanding policy, the FBI does not confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation," the bureau wrote in an email.
A Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokesperson said she was unaware of any investigation locally.