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NFLPA hopes to avoid prosecution of players who obtained and used fake vaccination cards

Antonio Brown is among three players who have been suspended three games after “misrepresenting their vaccination statuses” and Mike Florio and Peter King describe what effect this has on the Bucs' trust with the WR.

Now that the NFL and NFL Players Association have jointly announced suspensions of three players for misrepresenting their vaccination status, the question becomes whether the federal government will get involved.

The relevant federal law imposes a punishment of up to five years in prison for buying, procuring, or using a counterfeit vaccination card, with knowledge that the card is fake. The key to the potential five-year sentence becomes the presence of the CDC label on the card.

So where does this fall on the priority list when it comes to utilizing federal prosecutorial resources? It’s likely something more serious than removing a mattress tag. It’s far less serious than robbing a bank. But it’s surely something the government doesn’t want people doing.

Regardless of whether the threat of prosecution is real, the NFL Players Association doesn’t want any of its constituents to find out. Per a source with knowledge of the union’s thinking on the matter, the 2021 COVID protocol specifically does not include a penalty for using a fake vaccination card in order to avoid creating a clear paper trail that a player receiving that punishment had a fake vaccination card. Likewise, the joint statement regarding Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown, Buccaneers safety Mike Edwards, and free-agent receiver John Franklin III specifically was crafted to avoid saying that they’d used fake vaccination cards.

But, obviously, they did. And now Brown, Edwards, and Franklin will have to wonder whether they’ll hear from the FBI or the DOJ.

The smart move (then again, there’s been nothing smart about any of this) would be to say nothing. Brown’s attorney, Sean Burstyn, opted on Thursday to issue a statement insisting that Brown accepted his punishment “instead of going through the drawn out and distracting process of challenging the outcome.”

One day earlier, Brown appeared on the Richard Sherman podcast. Sherman suggested that Brown has received the vaccination and the booster shot and that the allegation of the fake vaccination card is false. Said Brown in response, “That’s the sad part. You know, the country say you’re innocent ‘til proven guilty. But you’re guilty until you show innocence.”

As to Brown, the NFL decided after doing an investigation that he’s guilty. He opted to accept that outcome.

Maybe that’s enough to get the feds to not mess with him. Or maybe the NFL already has set the table for a prosecution that will allow the powers-that-be to send a powerful message to anyone with a fake card that there are very real consequences.