The NFL potentially ruffled some feathers Thursday when it amped up the pressure on the potential for unvaccinated players testing positive for COVID-19. Some of those feathers belong to Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
We already knew how unvaccinated players would have to adhere to the same protocols that were in place during the 2020 season and vaccinated players would not. That also meant there was already the potential for games to be affected because of the absence of players testing positive which might have been avoided if they were vaccinated.
But the league went even further when it informed all teams that any games canceled during the season because of an outbreak from a team’s “non-vaccinated players/staff” would result in a forfeit.
That was too much for Hopkins, who tweeted, “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 subsequently deleted the tweet, but too late for it to be widely disseminated. He also had a one-word tweet that said, “Freedom?,” which has been a clarion call of some of those that equate not taking the vaccine with individual freedom when the issue is also about the health and safety of others.
Meanwhile, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs, a teammate of receiver Cole Beasley who has been critical of the vaccine while being inaccurate in many of his comments, tweeted simply Thursday, "accountability … availability."
As for games potentially affected if vaccinated players test positive, the memo said, “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.”
The league memo also said the regular season won’t be extended to fit games that are postponed.
Also significant are financial penalties attached to canceled games. Players from both teams won’t be paid that week and the team experiencing the outbreak will be responsible “for all additional expenses incurred by the opposing team” along with decreases in the revenue-sharing pool.
The NFL Players Association, which has worked closely on COVID protocols with the NFL since last year, is in a unique position of not pushing for mandated vaccines while also acknowledging that players should choose to be vaccinated.
In a memo sent to the players Thursday, the NFLPA addressed the issue of players not being paid in the event of a canceled game.
The memo said, “We remind you that the same basic rules applied last year. The only difference this year is the NFL’s decision to impose additional penalties on clubs which are responsible for the outbreak and the availability of proven vaccines. The protocols we jointly agreed to helped get us through a full season last year without missing game checks and are effective, when followed.”
Without saying it specifically, the union clearly believes vaccines are also “effective.”
According to the most recent reports, 14 teams have more than 85 percent of their players vaccinated and more than 78 percent of all players have been administered one shot. As of earlier this week, the Cardinals were one of two teams that had fewer than 50 percent of their players vaccinated.
In the memo, commissioner Roger Goodell wrote, “These operating principles are designed to allow us to play a full season in a safe and responsible way, and address possible competitive or financial issues fairly. 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 among our clubs or outbreaks that occur within the larger community. 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.”