Inside information is very real for pro football, and it easily can be abused. This year, another important type of inside information could affect the wagers made and not made on a given team.
The 2021 COVID protocols put unvaccinated players at risk of a game-day scratch if they test positive or if they are deemed to be a close contact with an infected person. Vaccinated players won’t be tested on game day; thus, vaccinated players won’t face the risk of suddenly not being able to play.
So how can people who wager money in jurisdictions where sports betting is now legal be expected to make bets without knowing which players may suddenly be unavailable to play? The rules crafted by the league and the union — rules aimed at encouraging players to get vaccinated — have created this very important potential impediment to game-day availability. If the league (and the union, which also will benefit from the millions made by the sport through legalized betting) wants those who place wagers to feel good about the decisions being made, they need to be able to access a list of each team’s unvaccinated players.
Some names have become obvious, but only because of incidents involving the players. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins spent five days out of practice as a close contact, which let the world know he’s not vaccinated. Ditto for Patriots quarterback Cam Newton, who missed five days after a COVID “misunderstanding” involving an out-of-town trip and a failure to be tested every single day at the team facility.
This is new territory for everyone. If/when a prominent player who isn’t widely known to be unvaccinated gets scratched on the day of a regular-season game for COVID reasons, anyone who bet on that team or added that player to a fantasy lineup without knowing about the risk he’d suddenly be pulled from the game will justifiably be upset. The league and the union need to anticipate that specific wrinkle and address it before it becomes a problem.
The NFL repeatedly talks about protecting the integrity of the game. It’s now important for the NFL to protect the integrity of the wagers placed on the game. For 2021, applying secrecy to the important category of unvaccinated players undermines the integrity of every wager placed on every team with unvaccinated players on the roster.