TAMPA — A few weeks ago, the Bucs seemed to have little interest in delving too deeply into the issue of fake vaccination cards. Not even — or especially even — in their own locker room.
After our beat writer Rick Stroud broke the news that Antonio Brown turned in a bogus card, the team’s only public response was to be dismissive and purposefully misleading.
The Bucs said they had found no red flags in any of the team’s vaccination cards and so this, they insisted, was not a story.
And now that Brown, Mike Edwards and a former Buc have been suspended three weeks by the NFL for their misdeeds?
“There’s a lot more to that story,” coach Bruce Arians said Friday. “I just hope they don’t stop looking.”
So, does Arians think there are similar issues around the NFL?
Oh, good grief. Now they want to be crusaders?
At every turn, the Bucs have tried to paint themselves as either clueless or helpless. The football version of ingenues. They were shocked — Shocked, I say! — to discover this might have gone on under their very noses even after they were alerted to the possibility.
And, even now, they are ducking responsibility.
After having made it clear a year ago that they would employ a zero-tolerance policy with the mercurial Brown, the Bucs now say no decision on his fate will be made until the suspension is completed.
Is this their idea of accountability?
Because they are the ones who brought Brown to Tampa Bay. They are the ones who set the conditions for his tenure. They are the ones who acted like it was no big deal that there were questions about whether he used a false vaccination card. They are the ones who were hoping the story would just go away.
So, no, they should not get a free pass just because they cooperated with a subsequent NFL investigation.
Look, I do not really care that Brown was apparently skeptical of the vaccinations. That’s his prerogative. And I’m not especially shocked that he was suspended again. His history suggested that he would eventually do something that was both selfish and immature.
I’m bothered more by the team’s response.
Everything they have said — and failed to say — gives the impression that they are more concerned with keeping Brown on the roster. Is that because the Bucs haven’t looked as sharp since Brown left the lineup with an ankle injury? Is that because general manager/quarterback Tom Brady wants Brown in the game plan? Is that because they are afraid to acknowledge that a lot of people predicted Brown would eventually embarrass the organization?
How hard would it have been to issue this simple statement two weeks ago:
“We take this matter seriously and will cooperate with any inquiries made by the league office.”
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Instead, Arians repeatedly called it a non-story. And the team’s official statement involved a lot of non-denial denials that gave the impression there was no reason to suspect anything was amiss.
And they absolutely knew better. They may not have had all the information they needed, but they had enough.
So, while Brown was duping them, the Bucs were duping you.
Even now, no one from the front office wants to step in front of a microphone to explain how this could have happened, or how disappointed the team is in a player who claimed he was a changed man.
And, for everyone crying about the injustice of Brown’s suspension when Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers got a nominal fine for not wearing a mask? There is no comparison.
Rodgers did not deceive the NFL or the Packers. They knew he was not vaccinated. Because of that, Rodgers was being tested daily and following a lot of other protocols for unvaccinated players. His sin was misleading reporters when they asked him about his status.
Brown, on the other hand, deceived the people paying his salary. And he put everyone at the team facility at risk because he was not following unvaccinated protocols, then caught the disease himself.
All this, for a player who had previously been suspended for eight games, had been on probation after a scuffle with a truck driver, and who got sued by numerous vendors for failing to pay his bills. A player who destroyed a security camera and threw a bike at a guard gate in his neighborhood. A player who was traded by the Steelers after going AWOL and was released by the Raiders after publicly airing his clashes with his coach and general manager. A player who had settled a civil suit involving a charge of sexual assault.
Call me old-fashioned, but it seems like you’ve reached last-straw territory when your encore is deliberately attempting to deceive your boss and coworkers on a life-and-death issue.
Does the team feel the same way?
Heck if I know. At the rate they’re going, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bucs issued a statement saying they were surprised to discover Antonio Brown ever played for them.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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