The NFL and the NFLPA created a minefield for the NFL’s teams, when it comes to the issue of vaccination status and roster decisions. On one hand, they agreed that vaccination status won’t be a factor in making cuts. On the other hand, they sufficiently incentivized vaccination (and disincentivized anti-vaccination) to make it impossible to not consider vaccination status, especially in close cases.
The immaculately-paved asphalt driveway through the minefield was to say nothing that would connect roster moves to vaccination status. Jaguars coach Urban Meyer opted for the road less traveled — and he created a mess for the team, the league, and the union.
Now, the NFLPA is looking into the situation. Appearing on Wednesday’s Brother From Another on Peacock, NFLPA spokesman George Atallah explained the process of investigating the Jaguars in the wake of Meyer’s remarks.
“The public comments came out yesterday afternoon and we have just kicked off the investigation,” Atallah said. “The first step is to give the NFL notice that we intend to look into this and expect their cooperation, but . . . a union that picks and chooses what rights and what agreements to protect is no union at all. So that’s really where we start. We had an agreement with the NFL that vaccines were not going to be mandated this year. We had a side agreement letter that said no players were going to be adversely affected or disciplined or cut as a result of their vaccination status and the public comments yesterday by Coach Meyer suggest otherwise. . . . But again, it’s our job to pursue those rights. It’s our job to pursue and protect the collective bargaining agreement and the side letters that we negotiated on behalf of our members.”
The Jaguars immediately shifted to damage-control mode, led by a statement that attempts to characterize Meyer’s remarks as an issue not of vaccination status but availability (given the rules, the two are inextricably linked). The truth will come not from the public statements made now, but from the private comments made in the past.
“There might be a paper trail,” Atallah said. “There might be conversations. There might be interviews with people that we talk to that suggest otherwise again. We have to let the process play out. I understand the question is what’s the process supposed to be and what the process looks like? I’m going to be coy about that so as to not tip off what our process is going to be and who we talk to, but certainly there are going to be conversations. There is going to be a review of documents and there’ll be other factors in terms of the investigation. And by the way, in terms of a timetable and expectations, you know, this thing is not a 24-hour [to] 48-hour thing. You approach all of these things carefully. We do our due diligence, it is going to take time for us to make sure that we cover all bases and find any proof of what Coach Meyer said.”
Although the union would have preferred not to have to do anything, the fact remains that Meyer’s comments forced the NFLPA’s hand.
“I think with the Urban Meyer situation, I mean, to say it another way he pulled the fire alarm, right?” Atallah said. “And once you pull the fire alarm, yes, who’s going to come knocking on your door? I think that’s really the situation with him. He’s the new coach. I think maybe he’s just getting his feet wet with respect to some of the parameters that NFL coaches and clubs have that the union protects his players against, which weren’t the case in college. And we’re in a situation now where, like I said, we’re not a union if we don’t pursue and aggressively pursue any and all violations of the agreements that we signed.”
That’s really the issue here. At a time when many armchair lawyers are shouting that employers can do whatever they want to do, the fact remains that the NFL agreed that vaccination status will not be used against players. And while the league (and the union) also established plenty of reasons to err on the side of keeping vaccinated players over unvaccinated players, Meyer hammered a THERE MAY BE CONTRABAND IN THE HOUSE sign in the front yard.
Now, the union have no choice but to exercise its prerogative to go in and look for it. Even if the union would prefer not to find it.