A former live-in chef of Antonio Brown is accusing the Buccaneers wide receiver of obtaining a fake COVID-19 vaccination card last summer to dodge NFL protocols, the Tampa Bay Times reported Thursday.
Steven Ruiz provided texts to the Times that appeared to show a conversation between Ruiz and Brown’s girlfriend, Cydney Moreau, asking if Ruiz could secure a Johnson & Johnson vaccination card and Moreau saying in the message that Brown would pay $500 for one. The reasoning behind wanting Johnson & Johnson to be printed on the card was that it was a single shot and therefore would not need as much paperwork, Ruiz told the Times.
Ruiz said he was unable to secure the card, but Brown later showed his chef that he had obtained ones for both himself and Moreau prior to the start of the Buccaneers’ training camp.
Brown’s lawyer, Sean Burstyn, said in a response to the Times’ story that Brown is vaccinated.
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“Antonio Brown appreciates the severity of the pandemic, which is why he got the vaccine and supports everyone for whom it is advisable to get the vaccine,” Burstyn told the Times. “Coronavirus has hit close to home as it took him out of a game. He is healthy, vaccinated, and ready to win another Super Bowl.
“One of the worst parts of the pandemic has been a movement to cast doubt on our country’s vaccination programs with baseless, vindictive tabloid gossip.”
According to the Times’ report, Brown and Ruiz fell out because Brown owed him $10,000. The Times reported that Ruiz spoke publicly after the two sides were unable to reach a settlement.
Burstyn called Ruiz on Nov. 8 to discuss a possible settlement, according to phone logs the Times says it was provided. According to the Times’ reporting, Burstyn asked how much money Ruiz wanted, and Ruiz replied that he was seeking only what he claims Brown owes him.
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According to the Times’ report, personal trainer and TB12 co-founder Alex Guerrero went to Brown’s house to work with him in recovering from knee surgery. Guerrero took a picture of the vaccination card and sent it to head trainer Bobby Slater to help with the documentation of vaccinated players. Ruiz told the Times he does not think Guerrero knew the card was fake.
The Buccaneers said in a statement that “no irregularities were observed” when they examined players’ vaccination cards. Bucs coach Bruce Arians said before the season that 100 percent of the team was vaccinated.
The Times, however, reported that the Buccaneers’ chief legal officer, Dan Malasky, was contacted about Brown and another, unidentified Bucs player in mid-October by Kevin Blatt, a Los Angeles “media broker” who was working on Ruiz’s behalf. Ruiz, who called Blatt a “fixer” who’s well-known in LA, told the Times he turned to Blatt after deciding that suing Brown in civil court would have cost him more than $10,000.
Neither Brown, Brown’s agent nor Guerrero responded to requests for comment from the Times.
NFL COVID-19 protocols
If the NFL determines that Brown has been using a fake vaccination card, he will all but certainly be found also to be in violation of the league’s COVID-19 protocols, especially if he has not been vaccinated at all.
Unvaccinated individuals have to be tested every day for COVID-19 and they must wear a mask at all times in team facilities. They also cannot gather in groups larger than three people.
Brown tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the Buccaneers’ Week 3 game vs. the Rams. The Tampa Bay Times noted that Brown was in isolation for 10 days, the same amount of time unvaccinated players are held out. But the report didn’t specify whether Brown was symptomatic or was unable to test negative twice in a row in a 24-hour period.
Brown has been out since Week 6 with a foot injury, but he had been doing press conferences indoors without a mask, which is a violation of the protocols for unvaccinated players.
In a recent example of protocol violations, Aaron Rodgers was fined $14,650 and the Packers organization was fined $300,000. Though Rodgers said he had told the team that he was not vaccinated, he still conducted indoor press conferences without a mask and was found to have been maskless inside team facilities.
A fake vaccination card would add an extra element. For starters, if the Buccaneers did not know Brown was in violation of COVID protocols all season, they might be able to avoid fines from the league.
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Fake vaccine cards reportedly have been a problem within the NFL. According to a September report from Defector, one NFL agent said he expected that 10 to 15 percent of players would have a fake vaccination card.
An NFL spokesperson told Defector that teams were asked to scrutinize cards they were presented and reminded teams that the use of a fake vaccination card is not only a health risk, but also a federal crime.
“Any attempt by team personnel or players to use a forged or fake card would be reviewed under the personal conduct policy and subject the individuals to discipline. In addition, it is a federal criminal offense. No club has reported any such activity during the verification process,” the spokesperson told Defector.
Brown has been in trouble with the league before. He was suspended for the start of the 2020 season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The suspension was related to a no-contest plea Brown made to burglary and battery charges in January 2020, as well as for intimidating texts he is alleged to have sent a woman for making unwanted advances toward her.
What is the federal penalty for using a fake vaccination card?
As the NFL spokesperson told Defector, it is a federal crime to use a fake vaccination card, which could land Brown in trouble beyond the league.
According to the Times’ report, creating, using and/or selling a fake vaccination card is a felony and can lead to fines and up to five years in prison.