NFL's COVID-19 fight is far from over without player cooperation, and it is problematic

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers
Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers
Luke Ervin

All the way back in July of 2020, the NFL was faced with an unimaginable issue: Figure out a way to play a full season at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NFL achieved their goal of playing a full season. The season, however, was filled with controversial moments.

One such example came in week 4 of the season, when the NFL had the New England Patriots travel to Kansas City on a Monday morning to play the Chiefs that same Monday night.

The game had originally been scheduled for Sunday, but had been postponed due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests. Game-day plane rides are an extreme rarity in the NFL.

Situations similar to that happened a couple of different times throughout the regular season.

The NFL took enormous amounts of criticism for their handling of the 2020 season, and rightfully so, the league often seemed disorganized and overly focused on playing the full schedule without regard for its players.

With increased knowledge of COVID-19 and recognition that they must do a better job this go around, the NFL came out earlier this offseason and set strong and clear procedures for the upcoming season. The procedures aimed to eliminate the bevy of COVID-19 issues that faced the league the previous season.

Unfortunately, despite now having more knowledge on the situation and access to vaccines, the NFL's COVID-19 fight is far from over. The reason being? The current lack of cooperation amongst several NFL players.

Any 2021 COVID-19 issues or delays in the NFL season will squarely be placed on the players, rather than the league offices as they were in 2020.

NFL COVID-19 fight

The NFL has done just about everything you can ask for when it comes to combating a lack of player cooperation. The 85% vaccine threshold was one of the first incentives the league came up with. Reaching the threshold would allow for a loosening of COVID-19 safety protocols during training camp.

The NFL also made education regarding the vaccine readily available for every NFL team. Not to mention, the NFL has made sure that every player has easy access to a vaccine. Despite all that, player pushback to the vaccine remained prevalent.

Incentivizing with fewer protocols and education was a good start, but as the season quickly approached, it became clear the NFL needed to ramp up vaccine numbers. This led to the controversial policy surrounding the in-season handling of unvaccinated COVID-19 cases.

The NFL informed teams that there would be no rescheduling of games for a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players. Instead, teams with breakouts would forfeit and be credited with a loss. Furthermore, the league stated that in the event of a forfeit both teams would not receive game checks.

The new policy sent shockwaves throughout the league. Twitter blew up with player reactions. The message from the league was clear: Get vaccinated or risk losing a game and a check for your teammates.

If fewer protocols and education on the vaccine weren't incentive enough to get the vaccine, the possibility of having to forfeit a game and a check surely would. Right? Wrong.

Players and some coaches immediately voiced their displeasure towards the new policy and the vaccine.

Player cooperation

Cole Beasley has been the leader on the anti-COVID-19 policies front, not too long ago he stated he'd rather retire than get the vaccine, but it wasn't just him.


One of the league's best wide receivers, DeAndre Hopkins quickly jumped into the conversation. In a now-deleted tweet, Hopkins stated he was contemplating his future in the NFL.

"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."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette chimed in on Twitter as well.

"Vaccine I can’t do it……."

Meanwhile, New England Patriots assistant coach Cole Popovich left the team due to the new COVID-19 policies.

Of course, it wasn't all players and coaches who disagreed with the NFL's new rules regarding the vaccine.

Many teams around the league have reached the 85% vaccine threshold. However, there's enough disagreement between players that it could cause issues for the league later down the line.

Washington Football Coach Ron Rivera openly expressed frustration that his team has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the NFL.

“I hope we can get to these guys and get them to understand that really it’s not just for them but it’s for the people around them.” “That’s the thing where I think hopefully we will get their attention, that this is not just for them but for the folks around them.”

It's important to point out that Rivera battled squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. Now in remission, Rivera is immunodeficient, which puts him at an increased risk if he were to be infected with COVID-19.

Let's make this clear: Nobody should be forced to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Players, and everyone alike, deserve to have a choice in the matter.

However, the strong stance by the NFL on this matter was an absolute necessity. The product is much worse off with players missing in action and games being rescheduled.

If as a player you choose against the vaccine then you'll have to learn to accept the consequences that could come along with that. That could mean forfeiting a game, losing a check, or infecting a coach recovering from cancer. It may sound harsh, but that's the reality of the situation.

The NFL has done just about all they can possibly do to incentivize getting the vaccine. If the remaining unvaccinated players haven't been swayed to get vaccinated yet, it's doubtful anything the NFL can do now will change their minds.

The point isn't that the COVID-19 problem would suddenly vanish if every NFL player was vaccinated, because as we've seen and publications have reported, those who are vaccinated can still be diagnosed with the virus. But what it would mean is that the league, the players, and the coaches worked together as one to at least try and prevent any major health issues.

Unfortunately, that type of solidarity and cooperation just hasn't existed between the NFL and some of its players and coaches.

What comes next remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: Without player cooperation, the NFL's COVID-19 problem is set to play a factor in the upcoming 2021 regular season.

Edited by Shivam Damohe


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