The NFL said it is looking into a report that Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown allegedly obtained a fake Covid-19 vaccination card to evade league protocols.
"We are aware of the report and have been in contact with the club," an NFL spokesperson said. "We will review the matter."
Steven Ruiz, the former live-in chef for the NFL player, made the claims in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
Ruiz told the newspaper he was speaking out after falling out with Brown, claiming the athlete owes him $10,000 after efforts to reach a settlement with his former boss were unsuccessful.
According to Ruiz, Brown’s girlfriend, model Cydney Moreau, texted him Ruiz on July 2 saying, “Can you get the COVID cards?” Ruiz responded, “I can try.”
“JNJ shot. Ab said he would give you $500,” Moreau allegedly wrote back, with “Ab” referring to Brown and “JNJ “referring to a vaccine card showing proof of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
A screenshot of their alleged text exchange was shared with the newspaper.
In the end, Ruiz was unable to procure the cards. A few weeks later, Brown allegedly showed him fake vaccination cards that he said he purchased for himself and his girlfriend, Ruiz told the Times.
The cards were sitting on Brown’s dining room table just days before the start of the Buccaneers training camp, he added.
That same night Alex Guerrero, a personal trainer, arrived to Brown’s home to help him recover from a knee surgery and he took a photo of Brown’s vaccination card, according to Ruiz. The photo was an effort to help the team document a list of vaccinated players. Ruiz said he believed Guerrero was unaware the card was fake, the newspaper reported.
Efforts to reach Moreau were unsuccessful Friday, but she told the Times that she did not know Ruiz.
Brown’s attorney, Sean Burstyn, said in a statement that his client is vaccinated.
"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 said. "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."
The NFL said that teams are responsible for verifying personnel and player vaccination status. Any attempt by team personnel or players to use a fake card would be reviewed under the personal conduct policy and may subject them to discipline. It’s also a federal criminal offense to use a fake Covid-19 card because falsifying a government seal, which appears on the cards, is illegal.
The Buccaneers said in a statement following the report that all team players submitted completed vaccine cards.
“After an extensive educational process conducted throughout our organization this past offseason highlighting the benefits of the Covid-19 vaccines, we received completed vaccination cards from all Tampa Bay Buccaneers players and submitted the required information to the NFL though the established process in accordance with league policy," the team said.
"All vaccination cards were reviewed by Buccaneers personnel and no irregularities were observed."
Brown tested positive for Covid four days before the Week 3 game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 26. He was activated the following week, the NFL announced at the time.
Under current rules, players who are vaccinated can return to work if they are asymptomatic and pass two Covid-19 tests 24 hours apart. Brown instead was out for a 10-day waiting period that is imposed on players who are not fully vaccinated, the Times reported.
While vaccinations against Covid-19 are not required for players, they are subject to rules including daily testing, mask wearing and limited travel.
The questioning of Brown’s vaccination status comes after the Green Bay Packers team was fined $300,000 for Covid protocol violations. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Allen Lazard were also fined $14,650 each for attending a Halloween party while unvaccinated.
Brown is no stranger to controversy.
In January 2020, he was accused of attacking a truck driver in front of his Hollywood, Florida, home. He was charged with burglary with assault, burglary conveyance and criminal mischief in that case. Brown pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to two years of probation in a deal with Broward County prosecutors. He was also ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation and attend an anger management course.
Brown was also accused of sexual assault by his former trainer Britney Taylor in a lawsuit filed in 2019. Brown denied the allegations and countersued Taylor before a settlement was reached in April.