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TAMPA — Now that the matter of the fake vaccination card has been put to rest by the Buccaneers, there is really only one thing left to say:

Thank you, Antonio Brown.

Thank you for your belligerence after Sunday’s victory in Carolina. Thank you for your phony claims of grace back in training camp. Thank you for reminding us that stadiums and locker rooms are not always the best place to search for character or honesty.

Because, you know, we all get caught up in the idea of the competitor as a noble figure. And sometimes we forget that athletes can be as flawed and immature as the rest of us.

For every Walter Payton, there is a Terrell Owens. For every Jackie Robinson, there is a Ty Cobb. For every genuine hero, there are a whole lot of personality flaws and unattractive qualities in spikes and sneakers.

The difference, of course, is most of us do not get rewarded for boorish behavior. Most of us learn early on that there are consequences to our actions. Most of us do not understand what it is to be entitled.

So, while we’re at it, thank you, Bruce Arians.

Thank you for acknowledging that you could “give a s—t” what others might have to say. Thank you for backtracking on your promise that Brown was one misdeed away from being released. Thank you for reminding us that sins are measured differently for those who can run, pass, catch and block.

That’s not a revelation, by the way. And the Bucs are not the first team to excuse a cad in the name of winning. That sort of calculation has been going on since Babe Ruth was a colossal pain in the butt. Even Tony Dungy, one of the most reputable men in sports, had different rules for Warren Sapp.

And, if we’re being honest, a lot of fans would feel the same way. To them, a player brought in on double-secret probation who subsequently lies to his employers and teammates and defies NFL regulations is not a crisis. Tom Brady without any healthy receivers? Now, that’s a crisis.

Still, I would feel better about the whole scenario if the Bucs just acknowledged that truth.

A few months ago, Arians was barking about players who were not wearing masks in the building at AdventHealth Training Center. Yet there have been no public rebukes of Brown. No expression of disappointment for a player who was given a fourth chance in Tampa Bay after running out of excuses in Pittsburgh, Oakland and New England previously.

Arians told esteemed NFL writer Peter King on Sunday night that he decided to excuse all of Brown’s past transgressions because the player had been so dedicated to doing the right thing in Tampa Bay.

There may be a shred of truth to that, but there is also a ton of hooey.

As a football coach, Arians gets rid of dozens of players every training camp. Church-going, hard-working, charity-minded players who busted their rears for the team. But talent, in the end, rules every decision.

And talent is the only reason Brown is still in a Bucs uniform.

How hard would it have been to say that?

The Bucs could have said they were terribly disappointed in their employee’s transgression, but did not feel it was right to punish his teammates and Tampa Bay’s fans by cutting the receiver, since it would seriously jeopardize the franchise’s postseason hopes.

I wouldn’t agree with that stance, but at least it would be honest. Machiavellian, but honest.

Instead, the Bucs have gotten into bed with Brown. They have cast their lot with a player who was so chagrined by his second NFL suspension in as many seasons that he tweeted “Put some RESPECT on my name!” when he was activated last week. That sounds more like the player Arians once described as a “diva” than the changed man who kept saying he was grateful to be able to resume his career.

In the past few months, Brown has settled a lawsuit with a trainer who accused him of sexual assault. He was sued by a truck driver involving an altercation in which Brown entered a no contest plea and was sentenced to two years of probation. He recently settled another suit with a chef who said Brown refused to pay for his services, which led to the disclosure of the fake vaccination card.

And those are just a small sample of Brown’s headlines.

The Bucs once insisted that they were mindful of all of Brown’s missteps and they would hold him accountable in Tampa Bay. Turns out, that wasn’t true.

The Bucs, like every other professional team, are in the business of collecting victories. And if Brown can help them do that, as Arians succinctly put it, they don’t give a s—t about anything else.

John Romano can be reached at Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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