The NFL has found a way essentially to mandate COVID-19 vaccines while still maintaining (with a straight face) it’s an individual decision. As expected, some NFL players have not reacted favorably to news of the league’s Thursday memo to teams.
The NFL informed its 32 clubs that it will not reschedule any regular-season games in 2021 for a COVID-19 breakout among non-vaccinated players or staff. It included the “f word” — forfeit — in its warning. (Teams will not have to forfeit if an outbreak of vaccinated players occurs.)
The league attached financial penalties to any forfeits arising from a COVID-19 spike among the unvaccinated: Players from both teams will lose their game checks that week, while the team with the outbreak will bear responsibility “for all additional expenses incurred by the opposing team” and any shortfall in the league’s revenue-sharing pool.
The league will consider the forfeiting team to have played 16 games for purposes of draft order and waiver priority.
The NFL postponed five games and moved 10 others to accommodate outbreaks last season.
The league not only is incentivizing the vaccine but mandating restrictions for those who choose not to get vaccinated. The protocols for the unvaccinated include a mandatory mask mandate at the facility, not being allowed to eat in the cafeteria with teammates and being forced to remain in the team hotel during any off time for road games.
The NFL’s latest memo threatens to create a chasm within locker rooms.
Fourteen teams have at least 85 percent of their players vaccinated and more than 78 percent of players in the league have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“These operating principles are designed to allow us to play a full season in a safe and responsible way, and address possible competitive or financial issues fairly,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in the memo, a copy of which PFT has obtained. “While there is no question that health conditions have improved from last year, we cannot be complacent or simply assume that we will be able to play without interruption — either due to COVID outbreaks among our clubs or outbreaks that occur within the larger community. These principles are intended to help inform decisions, recognizing that, as in 2020, we will need to remain flexible and adapt to possibly changing conditions.”