The NFL released its COVID-19 operating principles for the upcoming season, with a focus on the league’s remaining unvaccinated players whose teams could suffer severe consequences if they are the cause of an outbreak. The league reports that more than 75 percent of players are currently in the process of getting the vaccine.
The memo from league commissioner Roger Goodell, which was obtained by NFL Network, informs teams and staffers that if a game is unable to be rescheduled during the regular season due to an outbreak of unvaccinated players, it could potentially result in a forfeit for that team. The league is not requiring vaccination for its players, but unvaccinated players will still have to cope with stricter rules in addition to these changes. According to ESPN, unvaccinated players will also have to deal with restrictions on travel, daily testing, and wearing masks.
“If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is canceled due to a COVID outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest and will be deemed to have played 16 games for the purpose of draft, waiver priority, etc.,” the memo reads. The team who forfeits will be given a loss and the opposing team will receive a win.
Additionally, if a game is ultimately canceled and is unable to be rescheduled, then both teams’ players will not receive their weekly salary.
A game cancellation due to an outbreak among unvaccinated teammates and staff could also result in additional sanctions from Goodell, especially if “the COVID outbreak is reasonably determined to be the result of a failure by club personnel to follow applicable protocols.”
“Every club is obligated under the Constitution and Bylaws to have its team ready to play at the scheduled time and place. A failure to do so is deemed conduct detrimental,” the memo reads.
This marks a stronger tone from the NFL as athletic leagues are still coping with game suspensions and rescheduling due to positive COVID-19 tests, particularly as cases of the highly contagious Delta variant continue to rise in numbers.
If an unvaccinated player tests positive, they will have to isolate themselves for ten days, just like during the previous season, and can return when no longer symptomatic. They also can potentially be placed into a five-day quarantine if they were in close contact with someone who tested positive.
Vaccinated players who test positive and are asymptomatic will also be isolated, but can return after receiving two negative tests a minimum of 24 hours apart. They also won’t be subject to a quarantine due to close contact with an infected individual.
Cole Beasley, a wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills, has been emphatic against getting a COVID vaccine, tweeting out a lengthy statement back in June that read, in part, “I may die of COVID, but I’d rather die actually living.”
Goodell said the league intends 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.”
“We do not anticipate adding a ‘19th week’ to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season,” the memo reads.