After a year of relative silence off the field, Antonio Brown is again in the news cycle. This happened after a report from the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday alleges the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver sought — and may have procured — a counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination card prior to training camp.
The claim comes from Brown’s former live-in chef, Steven Ruiz, who told the Times that he’s speaking out about Brown’s alleged actions after the two had a falling out over an unpaid $10,000 in services. According to Ruiz, Brown directed his girlfriend, model Cydney Moreau, to ask the chef to seek out a fake Johnson & Johnson vaccination card for him. The report included a photo of an alleged text exchange between Ruiz and Moreau, with Moreau telling the chef that “AB” would pay him $500 for the counterfeit J&J card. Ruiz goes on to allege that he wasn’t able to secure the card for Brown, but that the wideout claimed to have purchased one for himself and Moreau a few weeks later.
Moreau denied the allegations to the Times and also said she didn’t know Ruiz. The Times reported that it confirmed the number involved in the texts as belonging to the model. Brown’s lawyer, Sean Burstyn, also disputed the claims and said his client is fully vaccinated.
“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 texted to 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.”
Burstyn told ESPN that if Brown requires a booster shot then he would do it on live television if necessary.
Brown missed Week 3 against the Los Angeles Rams after testing positive for COVID.
In training camp, Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians announced that the team was 100 percent vaccinated — including all players, coaches and team personnel. The Bucs responded to the Times’ report with a statement Thursday suggesting that they had found “no irregularities” in Brown’s documentation.
“All vaccination cards were reviewed by Buccaneers personnel and no irregularities were observed,” the team said in its statement.
The NFL said Thursday that it is aware of the report and is now investigating the claims made against Brown. Under the current protocols, the first line of responsibility for confirming a player’s vaccination status falls on the team. However, if a player is found to have provided a fake vaccination card to his team, that conduct would fall under the league’s personal conduct policy and make them subject to fines or a suspension.
In another portion of the Times report, Ruiz alleged that he saw the cards and later witnessed trainer Alex Guerrero taking photos of the vaccination cards that were then allegedly sent to the Buccaneers. Guerrero has gained notoriety over the years for being Tom Brady’s personal trainer, while also helping Brady develop his TB12 diet and workout regimen. Guerrero also works with other players, including tight end Rob Gronkowski and Brown.
Guerrero declined to comment for the Times report.
With the NFL investigating Brown’s documentation, a multitude of avenues could come next. If Brown’s vaccination card checks out, it will likely settle the league’s involvement in the matter. If his documentation is discovered to be fraudulent, the NFL could move forward with discipline under the personal conduct policy. That’s notable, given that Brown was already suspended eight games in 2020 for past violations.
Beyond the league, if Brown is found to have procured fake vaccination cards and then furnished one to the team, it could be a federal offense if it involved unauthorized use of an official government agency’s seal, like the Department of Health and Human Services or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.