Luis M. Alvarez / AP
In a major escalation of pressure on NFL teams to vaccinate as many players as possible before the start of this fall season, the NFL says teams will forfeit and suffer loss if a game is called off due to ‘an outbreak of COVID-19 among their unvaccinated players – and players on both teams will not be paid.
The new policy, which could potentially affect playoff standings, was communicated in a 10-page memo to the league’s 32 teams that was first reported by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
“These operating principles are designed to allow us to play a full season in a safe and responsible manner and to deal fairly with any competitive or financial issues,” reads the memo’s introduction, which then describes various health arrangements related to the pandemic. . and policies.
The memo comes as some NFL teams have struggled to vaccinate the majority of their players.
Although all 32 teams have now vaccinated at least 50% of their players, two teams – the Washington football team and the Indianapolis Colts – only reached that benchmark last week, according to the Associated Press.
In contrast, the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints were the first two teams to hit an 85% mark and did so in mid-June.
“We know that vaccines are safe and effective and that they are the best step one can take to protect against the coronavirus,” the memo reads.
The new policies indicate that the league is taking a more aggressive stance than it did last season. Although the NFL avoided cancellations in 2020, more than a dozen games have been postponed, some by several weeks, due to outbreaks among players.
The NFL schedule has little wiggle room. Over the course of the 18 weeks, teams are scheduled to play 17 games, leaving little flexibility for rescheduling once travel time and adequate rest requirements between games are factored in.
Postponements in 2020 have required a complicated reshuffle of schedules and weeks off, and frequently shortened or lengthened deadlines between matches, sometimes pitting a team short of rest against a team leaving two weeks.
“Each club is required by the Constitution and bylaws to have its team ready to play at the scheduled time and place. Failure to do so is considered harmful conduct. of the right to postpone a match, ”the memo reads.
The policy also imposes any burden, competitive or financial, caused by the postponement or cancellation of a match on the team whose triggering caused it, responding to a frequent complaint from 2020 of teams whose schedules have been reorganized to take into account game postponements caused by other teams. epidemics.
While the cancellation policy is most dramatic, the league’s announcement includes other measures to pressure teams to achieve higher vaccination rates.
Teams with outbreaks among unvaccinated players will face fines. The league will only cover the cost of testing up to a point, after which the clubs are responsible. Epidemics among vaccinated players or staff will be treated less harshly.
The majority of NFL players have received at least one shot of the vaccine, and many – including star quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson – have publicly shared their vaccination status and encouraged fans to get the shot.
About a quarter of players have yet to receive a dose, according to the note, and some questioned the new policy on Thursday.
“I never thought I would say that, but being put in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to take part in the vaccine makes me question my future in the @Nfl,” wrote the star receiver for the Cardinals. ‘Arizona, DeAndre Hopkins. a tweet he has since deleted. He then tweeted, simply, “Freedom?”
Two positive test results among NFL players were announced Thursday. New York Giants wide receiver Kadarius Toney and Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Jake Luton have been placed on the COVID-19 list by their respective teams.