In a memo sent on Thursday, the National Football League has informed its teams that it does not intend to add additional weeks to the 2021 season to accommodate schedule changes caused by COVID-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated players on individual teams. And if a game is postponed due to an outbreak — and cannot be rescheduled within the existing 18-week schedule — the team with the outbreak will forfeit the game.
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero had the story.
"The league will make every reasonable effort, consistent with underlying health and safety principles, to complete the full 272-game regular season within the current 18 weeks and all postseason games as scheduled, in a safe and responsible way." More: https://t.co/DzOxFtuSPy— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 22, 2021
Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer published the full memo.
Up to this point — even though it has required team coaches and other support personnel in contact with players to be vaccinated (or demonstrate a valid reason they can’t be) — the league hasn’t required its players to get coronavirus vaccinations. While the NFL hasn’t said so, it is widely believed that it hasn’t required player vaccinations because it thinks the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) will object to such a policy — and make that objection stick.
And with this move, the NFL still isn’t requiring player vaccinations.
But what this policy will do is give yet-unvaccinated players yet another strong incentive to get the vaccine — and give vaccinated players another strong incentive to pressure their teammates into joining them. Remember: in 2020, the league and NFLPA agreed that players would not be paid their salaries for any games that were canceled.
ESPN’s Field Yates summarized it in simple terms.
The NFL: essentially mandating players get the vaccine without actually mandating the players get the vaccine.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) July 22, 2021
Before now, vaccinated players have essentially been allowed to return to normal pre-pandemic behavior — while unvaccinated players have basically been required to follow the same rules that applied to them in 2020: daily COVID tests, wearing masks and observing social distancing away from the playing field, being kept from leaving the hotel on road trips — and so on.
In addition, the league has let it be known that they intend to reduce a given team’s coronavirus restrictions when at least 85% of the team’s roster is fully vaccinated.
According to the Washington Post’s Mark Maske, these incentives have led to a large number of teams reaching the 85% threshold — and for vaccination rates among players to be well above that of their age group in the general population.
Updated player vaccination numbers: 78 percent of NFL players have had at least one vaccine dose; 14 teams have more than 85 percent of their players vaccinated; no team is below 50 percent.— MarkMaske (@MarkMaske) July 22, 2021
While Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has said that his team’s vaccination rate is among the league’s highest, it is unknown if the Chiefs are among the teams above the threshold.
But now, the NFL wants vaccination rates across the league to be even better — and it is doing everything within its power to make it happen.