The NFL is determined to see the 2021-22 season take place no matter what. Last year was devastating to the league’s bottom line and, as COVID-19 starts to resurface once again, there are concerns that a repeat may happen. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine a few days ago, but the NFL doesn’t plan on forcing players to vaccinate. However, the league could still make vaccinations voluntarily mandatory.
NFL on the Fence with COVID-19 Vaccines
According to NBC Sports’ Mike Florio, the NFL is not going to force the COVID-19 vaccine on any player or team member. The NFL and NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA) reached an agreement previously that ensured vaccines would not be mandatory. However, outside of the league, mandatory vaccines are being discussed, creating significant controversy everywhere.
In the league’s bylaws, it and the NFL’s 32 teams can require individuals not associated with unions to receive their COVID-19 shots. This has already been witnessed in NFL, with some teams firing their assistant coaches, or forcing them to resign, after they declined to get the necessary shots. However, players are protected by the union. NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith supports the players’ right to choose and he has enough control through the bargaining agreement to get his way.
2021 NFL Season Could Be Impacted
The lack of a mandated vaccine has already had some fallout, even before the regular season started. New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton is spending a few days away from the team after reportedly having contact with someone from the Pats organization who had tested positive for COVID-19. Newton isn’t vaccinated and, according to NFL protocols, has to stay away from team facilities for five days. In the meantime, the Pats are calling on their first-round rookie draft pick, Mac Jones, to fill the void. He could also start in Week 1 when the Pats take on the Miami Dolphins.
Cole Beasley of the Buffalo Bills, who has repeated railed against the vaccine, has also succumbed to NFL COVID-19 protocols. He came into contact with someone who tested positive and, like Newton, Beasley isn’t vaccinated.
The Voluntarily Mandatory NFL Vaccine Policy
These are not the only two cases of controversy and, while league teams cannot release players who decide not to vaccinate, there is a way to legally put pressure on them. Over the next week, teams are going to be forced to reduce their rosters from the current 80-man squads to 50. By August 31, the final rosters must be in place. This gives teams a strategic loophole to exploit if they want to.
In the event a player who is anti-vaccination is competing for a spot against someone who is vaccinated, the team’s decision on who to keep is simple. The NFL has already said that a team experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak could be forced to forfeit – not postpone – a game for a loss on their record, and teams aren’t going to be willing to take a chance. Facing the prospect of immediate elimination, some players will opt to get the vaccine in order to improve their odds and others will get vaccinated out of fear of being unemployed.
There has been a serious increase in positive COVID-19 cases among non-vaccinated individuals across the US as the Delta variant of the virus continues to strengthen. At the end of June, there were just 14,695 new Delta cases in the country; however, two months later, there are now more than 266,000. At that rate, it becomes obvious that the new outbreak could almost certainly have a huge impact on the NFL season.