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The New NFL COVID-19 Vaccination Memo: Fair or Not?



Following the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL continues to encourage its players to get vaccinated without expressly demanding them to do so. Initially, unvaccinated players or team personnel will be subject to different individual protocols for the 2021 season than those who have been vaccinated. However, the recent NFL memo gained various reactions from players as it went harsher than expected.

According to reports, the memo makes it perfectly clear that the NFL will not add a 19th week to the schedule, and that if a game cannot be rescheduled within the 18-week window and thus must be cancelled due to an outbreak of unvaccinated players, the team or club involved will be required to forfeit the game. In addition, players on both teams would not be paid their weekly salaries if the game was cancelled.

The NFL Memo

Here are some of the precise language from the NFL memo: 

  • “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. There is no right to postpone a game. Postponements will only occur if required by government authorities, medical experts, or at the Commissioner’s discretion.”
  • “In light of the substantial roster flexibility in place for the 2021 season, absent medical considerations, or government directives, games will not be postponed or rescheduled simply to avoid roster issues caused by injury or illness affecting multiple players, even within a position group.”
  • “If a game is cancelled/postponed because a club cannot play due to a Covid spike among or resulting from its non-vaccinated players/staff, then the burden of the cancellation or delay will fall on the club experiencing the Covid infection. We will seek to minimize the burden on the opposing club or clubs. If a club cannot play due to a Covid spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams.”
  • “Whether to reschedule a postponed game will be dependent on health and safety reasons at the recommendation of medical experts as well as considerations of stadium availability, schedule integrity, fan convenience, and other appropriate matters.”
  • “If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is cancelled 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 purposes of draft, waiver priority, etc. For the purposes of playoff seeding, the forfeiting team will be credited with a loss and the other team will be credited with a win.”

The NFL Players’ Status

So far, at least half of the players on each of the 32 NFL clubs have been vaccinated. In the most recent report, 13 teams had reached or exceeded the 85% mark, allowing for relaxed masking, social distance, and other COVID-19 safety precautions in club venues and facilities. Furthermore, the NFL policy gained a lot of reaction from both the clubs and their respective players. One of which is Deandre Hopkins’ NFL memo comment (now deleted), which was an expression of his negative take on the new policy.

The now-deleted tweet read: “Never thought I would say this, But being in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the @nfl.” After deleting his initial tweet, he tweeted: “Freedom?”

deandre hopkins nfl
Courtesy of Houston Chronicle

Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey also gave his sentiment about the memo where he tweeted the following:” I know 2 people right now who got the vaccine but are covid positive… I’m just saying. I wouldn’t look at a teammate as bad if he don’t get the vax, no pressure from 5.”

Even though the policy does not require players to get vaccinated, it actually makes it more difficult for individuals who do not want to be vaccinated to avoid it. In order to avoid being cut in favour of someone who is vaccinated, marginal players and substitutes will consider long and hard about not being vaccinated. Fans and stadium staff will almost certainly want to be vaccinated as well, in order to avoid an outbreak that may force their team to forfeit. Team vaccination rates will undoubtedly be monitored by the multibillion-dollar football betting business.

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