NFL Sends Clear Message on COVID Vaccine
The NFL made it through the 2020 season without missing any games due to COVID-19. There were, however, a number of near misses and plenty of compromises that were made to accommodate America’s favorite sport during the year of a pandemic.
After more than 16.3 million fans attended games in 2019, only 1.2 million were allowed to participate in 2020. The NFL Draft went virtual, as did the offseason.
A total of 67 players opted out of the season because of pandemic concerns. The Saints played a game without any running backs, the Browns played without a wide receiver, and the Broncos played without a quarterback.
All told, there were 22 games moved because of positive tests and close contact tracing, but remarkably not one of them was canceled.
The NFL wants to make sure there are even fewer problems in 2021, and they see the vaccine as the key to making that happen.
Non-Union Personnel Vaccines are Required
The rules announced by the NFL this week are simple. If you want full access as a Tier 1 or Tier 2 employee of the NFL (anyone other than players), you must be vaccinated. Exceptions will be made for what the NFL calls bona fide medical or religious reasons, but that’s it.
Anyone refusing to get the vaccine without the exceptions will not be allowed access to the “football only” restricted area and may not work directly with or in close proximity with players and coaches.
For all vaccinated personnel, these close contacts will be allowed, as will participation in the easing of other COVID protocols, such as locker room restrictions, meetings, cafeteria use, and close contact quarantine requirements.
The easing of those protocols is particularly important because that is what will affect NFL players. Because they are unionized, a vaccine requirement for players is a collective bargaining issue.
That means these announced requirements are for everyone but the players. However, if players do get vaccinated, they can enjoy the easing of COVID restrictions. If they fail to get the vaccine, then the strictest of COVID protocols will remain in place.
One final requirement from the NFL is that teams use their stadiums or training facilities as mass vaccination sites for all team personnel, as well as players and family members who would like a vaccine. Teams are required to update the NFL on their vaccination programs before voluntary offseason workouts begin next week.
NFLPA Supporting Offseason Opt-Outs
COVID protocols and vaccination efforts involve negotiations between the NFL and its player’s association, and so far, those negotiations have failed to come to an agreement. And without any agreed-upon requirements in place, a number of teams have announced that as a group, they are opting out of all voluntary workouts.
The Denver Broncos were the first team to make the announcement, with the support of the NFLPA.
“With offseason programs starting in less than a week, and without adequate protocols in place in order for us players to return safely, we will be exercising our right to not participate in voluntary offseason workouts.”
The statement went on to say, “Despite having a completely virtual offseason last year, the quality of play across the NFL was better than ever by almost every measure.”
The Seahawks were quick to follow the Broncos’ lead, and they were followed by the Buccaneers. A number of other teams are expected to make the same decision to skip voluntary offseason workouts until new protocols are in place. It remains to be seen how teams’ participation in the offseason will have an impact on their futures odds at BetUS sportsbook.
Union president J.C. Tretter, a center for the Browns, has requested that the same protocols that were in place for 2020 be adopted for 2021. Tretter said of the negotiating impasse: “The NFL doesn’t get to decide when the pandemic is over or when we get to stop caring about COVID. Guys don’t want to catch something and make themselves vulnerable to that in the middle of unnecessary practices in the springtime that could impact them during games in the fall.”
There is some disagreement with the NFLPA’s statement that a virtual offseason led to one of the best seasons ever. A number of young players struggled because of the lack of offseason workouts. But concussions were down last year by 30%, and that is obviously a good thing for all