The league has sent a memo to its 32 clubs that if games are forced to be postponed due to a positive Covid test, they will go down as forfeits if they can’t be rescheduled. That will not only hit teams’ win-loss record, but also wipe out a paycheck and deny the home team’s ability to derive revenue from hosting the game.
NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero obtained the memo and tweeted it in full. He said the league was going to convene a call with team owners this evening.
“These operating principles are designed to allow us to play a full season in a safe and responsible way,” Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote, “and address possible competitive or financial issues fairly. While there is no question that health conditions have improved from last year, we cannot be complacent or simply assume that we will be able to play without interruption.”
As training camps start to open this week and next ahead of the traditional September start to the regular season, many players have indicated they still haven’t gotten vaccinated. A few, like Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley, have made a display of regurgitating online conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated claims about risks from the vaccine.
The NFL managed to play its full 2020 season despite myriad challenges from Covid. A few games had to be rescheduled due to positive tests. The tighter policy has broad ramifications for teams, players and broadcast networks alike, among other league stakeholders.
In June, the league outlined policies for training camp, saying players on teams with 85% vaccination rates would be able to go maskless in team facilities and stay in the same hotels. The league’s latest memo said that if positive tests arise among vaccinated players, the players will be tested and isolated but not face quarantine.
League owners before the season agreed to add a 17th game to the regular season, which will be played over 18 weeks. The NFL’s memo said adding additional time in order to accommodate Covid rescheduling is not an option.
Baker Mayfield, who quarterbacked the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs last season, told reporters as he arrived at Browns camp that higher vaccine rates could become a “competitive advantage.” That was a less spicy version of the message from Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin, who earlier this week questioned the will to win of any player opting not to get the jab. “Nothing else can be more important,” he said.
In the broader scheme of things, the NFL’s move is among the more significant by any large organization, employer or institution to compel constituents to take the vaccine. Private entities, like colleges or universities, have started requiring it, as have some employers, but in general legal experts see some liability facing those who insist on it.
Given that the FDA has granted only “emergency use authorization” for the vaccine, rather than full approval, those who resist could legally claim that an experimental medical measure is being forced upon them. Even in the absence of legal action, there is risk of blowback. Reports have circulated in recent days that many players who have held off on the vaccine have become more stubborn since they started to sense that they would be forced to take the step rather than coming to it on their own volition.