The NFL has said it won’t force players to get vaccinated. But on Thursday, the league issued a memo that revealed there could be huge consequences for not doing so.
The league told teams that any game that can’t be rescheduled within its 18-week schedule would be forfeited by the team responsible for a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players. Further, if a game is canceled, players from neither team would be paid.
The memo also said that unvaccinated players “responsible for financial losses” would be subject to discipline from Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“Every club is obligated under the Constitution and Bylaws to have its team ready to play at the scheduled time and place,” the league’s memo read. “A failure to do so is deemed conduct detrimental. There is no right to postpone a game. Postponements will only occur if required by authorities, medical experts, or the Commissioner’s discretion.”
Last season, multiple NFL games were postponed because of COVID-19 outbreaks among teams, but the league went without having to outright cancel a regular-season and playoff game. The league was willing to add an extra week to the schedule if need be for postponed games, though that didn’t prove to be necessary.
In Thursday’s memo, the NFL said it does not anticipate adding a 19th week to accommodate games that cannot be postponed. It is unclear whether the league would be willing to play games on unconventional days of the calendar like last year, when, for instance, the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers played on a Tuesday.
“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,” the memo read.
The league revealed that more than 75% of players are in the process of being vaccinated and more than half of the league’s teams were at least 80% vaccinated among players. If a vaccinated player tests positive and is asymptomatic, that player can return to the field if they produce two negative tests at least 24 hours apart. The player would then be tested every two weeks “or as directed by medical staffs.”
Two weeks ago, Washington was among four teams in the league to have less than a 50% vaccination rate among players. The Washington Post, however, reported Thursday that number has since climbed above that marker.
The NFL’s decision to have teams forfeit if an outbreak happens appears to further strengthen the idea that teams who are vaccinated could have competitive advantages over teams with a large number of players unvaccinated.
Former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin blasted players last week for not getting the shot.
“If you’re not one of them teams [that are vaccinated], are you really thinking about winning a championship? You see what I’m saying,” Irvin told ESPN. “OK, so now if you’re not getting vaccinated and you got all these other teams that are getting vaccinated … Somebody in that damn locker room [should say], ‘Hey man, we’re going to have a chance, are you vaccinated?’
“Let’s go through this because this could be a two-week healthy dude missing games, and in this league, this ain’t the NBA. In this league that could be it for you. The right person misses two weeks, that’s it. Your (butt) is out.”