With the beginning of training camp rapidly approaching, the NFL released its adjusted COVID protocols for the upcoming season now that vaccines are widely available. The new rules differentiate what vaccinated players can do compared to their unvaccinated counterparts, and those differences are quite substantial.
NFL Vaccine Rules
The NFL also announced the penalties for unvaccinated players who go to large public gatherings, i.e. bars or parties. Teams are permitted to fine players who stray from the rules up to $50,000 as a first offense.
One would think the mere competitive advantage of being able to hold meetings fully in-person or work out without limiting the gym capacity would be enough for teams to convince their guys to get the shot. But that hasn't been the case to this point. A large part of the NFL player base have either deflected or said something about doing more research when asked about their vaccination status. Today, in fact, Lamar Jackson, Kirk Cousins, and Zach Wilson all said it was a "personal decision" they didn't plan on sharing with the media. This comes a week after Montez Sweat said he wouldn't get a vaccine for a disease he hasn't caught yet.
The most notable part about these new guidelines is the financial impact it'll have on players who choose not to get the vaccine. Aside from the $50,000 penalty for breaking the rules, unvaccinated players can't participate in sponsorship or branding activities during the season. That isn't a big deal for guys making eight digits, but there are hundreds of NFL players who make very little compared to their counterparts around the league and sure could use those local sponsorship deals for an easy few bucks. All that's standing in their way are two shots.
From a team perspective, the competitive advantages offered for vaccinated players is substantial and it may lead to roster decisions based on vaccination status. Perhaps the most important note is that quarantine isn't required if a vaccinated player is in a high-risk exposure situation. Random chance can bring a player into contact with COVID and this eliminates the on-field consequences of that entirely.
Will this get players to vaccinate en masse? I'm not sure. The benefits have been extremely clear since the beginning, especially for a professional athlete. This will probably not change anyone's mind, but it certainly will give teams a lot more incentive to pressure unvaccinated individuals to get the shots. That may be all the NFL needed to get players vaccinated. We'll see.