While the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t cause the 2020-21 NFL season to grind to a halt, it definitely contributed to a massive decrease in revenue for teams and the league. This time, as spikes in infections begin to emerge, the NFL is hopeful it can prevent any further damage and is laying out some new rules that cover vaccinations and games. So far, the response has been mixed and some players are only tentatively accepting the league’s position.
NFL Lays Down the COVID-19 Law
The NFL sent teams updated training camp and preseason COVID-19 protocols over the past week as players across the league begin to prepare for the upcoming season. Included in the protocols are details of the discipline players will face, regardless of vaccination status, and some players aren’t happy. Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network has a copy of the memo and shared it on his Twitter feed. The policies reportedly stipulate that anyone who refuses to wear a COVID-19 tracker will receive a $14,650 fine. In addition, refusal to submit a required COVID-19 test will lead to a $50,000 fine.
Protocols still remain stricter for unvaccinated players. They are required to wear masks at all times, including while working out in weight rooms and at practices, “except when doing so would interfere with their ability to engage in athletic activity.” Unvaccinated players will also have to submit to daily COVID-19 tests and must wears masks in team facilities and during travel. They won’t be allowed to use team sauna/steam rooms, are subject to weight room capacity limits and cannot leave the team hotel on road trips to eat or to interact with anyone outside of the team traveling party.
Most Players Accept the Vaccine
Among players, nearly half the league has reached a 90% vaccination rate. However, there are some teams, like the Washington Football Team (WFT), who have just over a 50% vaccination rate in their player squads. Per Pelissero, 85% of the players across the league have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
As for the WFT, head coach Ron Rivera isn’t pleased with the results. One player, starting right tackle Cornelius Lucas, has already been placed on the team’s COVID-19/reserve list. Rivera, who is recovering from cancer, told the Washington Post, “I’m truly frustrated. I’m beyond frustrated. One of the reasons I walked in with a mask on is I’m immune-deficient. … When I’m in a group and the group’s not vaccinated or there’s a mixture, I put the mask on, and I do that for health reasons because nobody really knows [about the new delta variant]. I have to do that. And I just wish and I hope that our guys can understand that.”
Some Aren’t So Willing
Some players and coaches have been hesitant about getting vaccinated. Wide receiver Cole Beasley of the Buffalo Bills selfishly stated on Twitter that he “may die of covid, but I’d rather die actually living.” Mark Cuban responded by offering to buy Beasley’s wife Pfizer stock if he were to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and has also been promoting vaccinations on his social media accounts. In addition, Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins asserted, in a tweet that has now been deleted, that the NFL’s new rules regarding COVID-19 outbreaks and vaccinations are making him doubt his future in the league. “Never thought I would say this, But being put in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the NFL,” Hopkins wrote in the since-deleted tweet.
The league’s updated protocols come just a few days after the NFL told teams it would enforce game cancelations if an outbreak occurred among unvaccinated players and the game could not be rescheduled. If there is an outbreak within a team that causes a game to be canceled, the season could be thrust into turmoil. Last year, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were several games that had to be postponed, but none was canceled. The cancelation of a game would be a huge deal for any team, since it means the players aren’t getting paid. There are also financial consequences to the team, as well as potentially the visiting team.
However, most players appear to be coming around. Once they enter training camp, which all 32 teams are now holding, the players realize how different life is going to be as an unvaccinated player. This is likely to cause most vaccine-hesitant players to give in, and they’re going to get the vaccine in order to make their lives easier, or to prevent a financial burden to themselves or to their teams.