NFL informs clubs that COVID-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated players could lead to forfeited games

NFL

July 22, 2021

As the NFL approaches the 2021 season, the league informed clubs that it would not extend the season to accommodate a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players that causes a game cancellation.

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Thursday that the NFL sent a memo to its clubs stating that if a game cannot be rescheduled during the 18-week schedule due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players, the team with the outbreak will forfeit and be credited with a loss, per sources informed of the situation.

In addition, players on both teams will not be paid for the lost contest, and the team responsible for the cancelled game due to unvaccinated players will cover financial losses and be subject to potential discipline from the Commissioner’s office.

Last year, the NFL bent over backwards to rework the schedule on the fly as outbreaks occurred. Zero games were missed over 17 weeks.

In 2021, the NFL plans to play its 272-game slate over 18 weeks.

“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 stated in a highlighted portion.

It’s the clearest line the NFL has drawn to date and the most substantial incentive yet for owners, teams and coaches to pressure players to get vaccinated. The league has insisted it will not mandate vaccinations, but the restrictions in place for non-vaccinated players and potential penalties to teams make the NFL’s stance crystal clear.

Thursday’s memo underlines that in green. Money green.

“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,” the memo states. “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.”

It’s the clearest language the league has used in delineating the difference between outbreaks among vaccinated individuals and those who elect not to be vaccinated.

NFL Network’s Judy Battista reported that with players beginning to report for camps, progress on vaccinations has increased. More than 78 percent of players league-wide have had at least one shot, and 14 clubs have at least 85 percent of players vaccinated. Pelissero reported that all 32 teams have at least a 50 percent vaccination rate among players.

“We’re pleased with those numbers, but we’re not satisfied. We want to see them continue to go up,” NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills told Battista on Thursday’s NFL NOW. “Certainly those rates are well above what we’re seeing in the rest of society and certainly above the same age group as most of our players are. So a great head-start, more work to be done.”

According to Thursday’s memo, vaccinated players or staff who test positive and are asymptomatic can return to duty after two negative tests 24 hours apart. For non-vaccinated persons who test positive, the 2020 protocols remain in place, requiring a 10-day isolation.

In essence, the NFL is telling its clubs to up their efforts to convince players to get vaccinated. Otherwise, the burden of risk falls on the team should an outbreak occur.

Pelissero shared an NFLPA email sent to players Thursday night in which clubs were reminded that the “same basic rules” also applied last year, citing that players wouldn’t have been paid for games if there was a COVID-19 outbreak and all previously agreed upon joint protocols are effective, when followed as the 2020 season proved.

The NFLPA did note one small difference in that the NFL decided to impose additional penalties on teams which are responsible for an outbreak, should one occur, and the availability of vaccines.

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