The NFL sent a bombshell of a memo to teams on Thursday regarding its rules about COVID-19 outbreaks during the 2021 season. The headline-grabber is this: if a team has an outbreak among unvaccinated players that results in a game that can't be rescheduled, they'll forfeit the game and be credited with a loss. That wasn't the case in 2020 when vaccines weren't available.
That's huge — and there's more. The team with the outbreak will also be subject to financial ramifications and potential additional discipline from the commissioner. Oh, and in that scenario, neither team would receive their weekly salary. The whole thread from NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, beginning with the tweet embedded above, is worth reading if you're curious about the details.
What this means is that while the NFL hasn't mandated vaccines, it is doing everything in its power to incentivize them. We already knew getting the vaccine was going to be a competitive advantage, but it's hard to overstate the degree to which that's true. If a vaccinated player happens to test positive, they can be back within 24 hours with two negative tests. An unvaccinated players who tests positive has to quarantine for ten days. Vaccinated players can go back to normal, while unvaccinated players must continue with the restrictions and policies put into place last year.
Not getting the vaccine puts your team at risk, and it'll be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out in locker rooms. DeAndre Hopkins posted and then deleted a tweet on Thursday saying that these COVID rules made him question his future in the NFL. Cole Beasley and Leonard Fournette are also among the high-profile players to speak out against COVID vaccines. It's a hot-button topic, to say the least.
The Vikings might be among the teams at risk of being hurt by these policies. Adam Thielen, Harrison Smith, and Sheldon Richardson all told reporters in June that they were not vaccinated, while Kirk Cousins declined to share his vaccination status (but you can venture a guess based on his past comments). Four players don't tell the full story, and they could've changed their minds due to the increased incentive to get vaccinated, but it's worth noting nonetheless. Eric Kendricks, Patrick Peterson, and Justin Jefferson are among the Vikings players who are confirmed as fully vaccinated.
Per the NFL, 78 percent of players have had at least one shot, and 14 of 32 teams are above the 85 percent threshold that will allow relaxed team-wide restrictions. Whether or not the Vikings are among that group of 14 is unknown.
No one can force players to get vaccinated against their will, but there's going to be a lot of pressure — whether implied or outright spoken — from teammates and coaches on unvaccinated players. One can only imagine Mike Zimmer's reaction if the Vikings have to forfeit a game this year due to an outbreak among unvaccinated players.
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