By Terrance Turner
July 22, 2021
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell delivered a memorandum today that outlined the COVID-19 protocols and operating procedures for the 2021 NFL season. NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported the terms of the memo. Goodell is making headlines for language that sets firm rules — and strict penalties for those who do not abide by them.
“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 — either due to COVID outbreaks that occur within our clubs or outbreaks that occur within the larger community,” Goodell wrote. “These principles are intended to help inform decisions, recognizing that, as in 2020, we will need to remain flexible and adapt to possibly changing conditions.”
“As of today, more than 75 percent of players are in the process of being vaccinated, and more than half the clubs have vaccination rates greater than 80 percent of their players,” he continues. “We know that vaccines are safe and effective and are the best step anyone can take to be safe from the coronavirus.”
“If a vaccinated person tests positive and is asymptomatic, he or she must isolate, and contract tracing will promptly occur. The positive person can return to work after two negative tests at least 24 hours apart. If an unvaccinated person tests positive, the protocols from 2020 will remain in effect. The person will be isolated for a period of 10 days and will be permitted to return to duty if asymptomatic.”
The memo makes clear that the NFL intends to play its new 17-game, 18-week season without a hitch. “The league will make every reasonable effort […] to complete the full 272-game regular season within the current 18 weeks and all postseason games as scheduled, in a safe and responsible way,” it says. “We do not anticipate adding a ’19th week’ to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled.”
“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. “If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule 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,” it says. If a game is canceled and cannot be rescheduled, the forfeiting team will be credited with a loss, and neither team’s players will receive their weekly salary.
Players reacted to the memo on Twitter. Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins tweeted and then deleted his negative reaction to the rules. “Never thought I would say this, But being put 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,” he wrote.
“The NFL is pressuring/ ‘influencing’ guys to get the vaccine. They are saying if there is an outbreak, the team will be penalized heavily,” Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said on Twitter. “My point is no teammate of mine will feel that pressure from me because whether you are vaccinated or not, there is still a chance of getting covid.”
DJ Reader, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle, tweeted, “Talk about getting your hand forced smh.”