The NFL isn’t messing around any longer.
Ever since the 2020 season began with strict protocols in place, the NFL has made it clear that it will prioritize the health and safety of everyone involved in the league. They have closely adhered to the guidelines put forth by government officials and the CDC.
Last season was played mostly without fans in attendance, and thousands of COVID-19 tests were conducted throughout the league every day. This year, while the threat of COVID-19 is still very real, the protocols have been loosened, and procedures will seemingly return to normal.
If you’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine, that is.
Back in June, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to updated COVID-19 protocols for training camp and preseason. Noteworthy was the stark difference between the requirements for vaccinated players and unvaccinated players.
During summer activities, these protocols sparked conversation as media members were not shy about asking players and coaches their thoughts on both the COVID-19 vaccines and these protocols. Some, such as Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians, painted a black-and-white picture for his team.
“If you want to get back to normal, get vaccinated,” Arians said. “It’s still a personal choice, but I don’t see a reason to not be vaccinated.”
Others, most notably Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley, have questioned the protocols. Beasley released a lengthy statement on Twitter citing his reasons for remaining unvaccinated to this point.
Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer suggested he’d like his players to be vaccinated when it’s time to kick off the 2021 NFL season.
“The unvaccinated players are going to have a harder time this season,” Zimmer said. “When we go on the road, they won’t be able to go out to dinner with anybody. They’ll have to travel on buses differently, travel on planes differently. A lot of the meetings will be virtual like this, so there’s not only the safety part of being vaccinated, but as far as being part of a football team, it’s just going to be so much easier.”
The vaccine is required for all Tier 1 staff. ESPN’s Courtney Cronin reported that Rick Dennison was out as offensive line/run game coordinator after refusing to get vaccinated. He is believed to be the first NFL position coach to leave his team after refusing the vaccine.
On Thursday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all 32 NFL teams detailing the consequences of a COVID-19 outbreak caused by unvaccinated players. Goodell warned that if an outbreak stemming from unvaccinated personnel forces the cancellation of a game, it will not be rescheduled. Instead, the team with the outbreak will forfeit the game. Goodell also added that players on both teams would not be paid for the game if a game is canceled due to such an outbreak.
The league is not joking around this year. Goodell and the NFL are dropping the hammer with this latest rollout of COVID-19 procedures. It’s about the closest thing the NFL can do to forcing its employees to get vaccinated without actually forcing them to get vaccinated.
Goodell also noted that if there is an outbreak resulting from vaccinated players testing positive for COVID-19, the NFL will “attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams.” In short, the NFL is suggesting that personnel get vaccinated if they don’t want to force their team to forfeit a game this season.
It’s the type of drastic measure that sparked yet more conversation on social media from high-profile NFL players. Before deleting the tweet, DeAndre Hopkins suggested that he would have to contemplate his future in the NFL. He then scaled back his social media activity, opting to share one simple word.
As of now, over half of NFL teams have a vaccination rate at 80% or better, and 75% of all NFL players are either fully vaccinated now or are in the process of becoming fully vaccinated. So, roughly one in four NFL players has still not been fully vaccinated. This means, on average, over 20 players on each roster are unvaccinated heading into training camp, certainly leaving the potential for an outbreak.
These protocols also create a lot more questions about how teams will handle unvaccinated players. When it’s time to cut rosters down, how much will a player’s vaccination status determine whether he is kept or cut? Could locker room chemistry be compromised by a high-profile team leader refusing to get vaccinated, thus putting his team at higher risk of a forfeit?
As training camp begins in the coming weeks, it will be fascinating to see how the various COVID-19 vaccination protocols take their toll on NFL teams. But, purely from a football sense, it really seems like the NFL is providing a competitive advantage to teams with higher vaccination rates.
Vikings fans everywhere are hoping their favorite team takes note.