The NFL is trying to get back to normal after a COVID-19-impacted 2020 season that saw limited or no fans and cancelled games because of players contracting the virus.
COVID-19 is still an issue in 2021 so the league is being proactive in laying out its protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated players.
This week, the rules that the NFL and the NFLPA agreed upon were released to the public.
The NFL and NFLPA have agreed to updated COVID-19 protocols for 2021 training camp and preseason, per source.
How different will life by for vaccinated and unvaccinated players? From the memo that just went to clubs: pic.twitter.com/8yMPW0JBWZ
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 16, 2021
In essence, the NFL is trying to keep everyone safe, both vaccinated and unvaccinated players.
The unvaccinated players will endure additional testing and separation from teammates and others during the season.
More than one-half of the players have received at least one vaccine to date, necessitating a policy to address those who have not.
More than half of players on NFL rosters have now taken at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, per source.
Still a ways to go before training camp starts next month and it won’t be mandatory, but efforts by the league and teams to educate and incentivize seem to be working.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 15, 2021
Here are three notable parts of these policies.
3. High-Risk Exposure Policy
Unvaccinated players will follow the 2020 rules if they are deemed a high-risk exposure to someone with COVID-19.
They will be susceptible to days of quarantine which can entail missing practices and games.
Vaccinated players who are exposed will not be required to quarantine and can continue their normal schedule provided they test negative for the virus.
Players will now only be tested once every two weeks. They'll also be allowed to forgo all social distancing measures and won't be required to quarantine after high-risk exposure to COVID…. #NFL #NFLPA
— Sports is my thing (@Sports_Chic2) June 16, 2021
Whereas last season, everyone was subjected to the same rules regarding high-risk exposures, this year the rules could create opportunities for vaccinated players who are not starters to get more playing time should an unvaccinated starter become exposed.
2. Sponsorship Events Policy
Unvaccinated players are prohibited from doing events for social media, marketing, or sponsorship purposes.
Presumably, this means in-person events though that is not directly stated.
Players engage in these activities during the season as their schedules permit.
For example, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield does the Progressive Insurance commercial series during the season titled: At Home With Baker Mayfield.
If Mayfield is not vaccinated, per these guidelines, he could not appear in these commercials.
1. Travel Policy
Because there is so much travel during the NFL season, the travel policies are probably the most impactful for players.
Unvaccinated players must wear masks while traveling, and they essentially are quarantined in the hotel of the city they are in.
They are not allowed to leave the hotel to go to restaurants or night clubs.
In addition, they cannot interact with anyone outside the team bubble.
That would include family members and friends.
The NFL has required coaches to be vaccinated to be on the field.
It has not required players to do so thus respecting their freedom to choose.
These rules provide a framework for what an unvaccinated player can expect during the season.
They will be somewhat isolated; and in the cases when they are interacting with others, social distancing will be the norm.
Some would argue these policies are too stringent; however, the NFL is trying to have a “normal” 2021.
That means crowded stadiums with plenty of people around.
The league cannot afford a massive outbreak.
Thanks to the vaccines, the NFL can return to a more normal season, but it still has to build in contingencies for situations that may arise.