The NFLPA recently released their guidelines on COVID-related safety for the upcoming NFL season. The main point of the new parameters is that vaccinated players and personnel will experience training camps, practices and game days in a fairly normal way. Those that are unvaccinated, however, will be subject to rules similar to that of the 2020 season. They will be tested regularly, have to wear masks, be fairly isolated from teammates and a social life, and will be held out of games and practices if they come into contact with high-risk COVID situations. These new guidelines are stringent, without a doubt, and about as far as the NFLPA could go to incentivizing vaccination without outright mandating it. This seems like a drastic measure, but given the circumstances, it is a necessary step by the players union to protect its workers.
From training camp to the end of the 2020-2021 season, 726 people in the NFL tested positive for coronavirus, including 262 players. While this factor seems small compared to the nearly 1,000,000 administered tests, consider that 262 players is still around 15% of those on NFL rosters at any given time. While many players were able to recover from their COVID diagnosis, the ones the ones that didn’t rightfully should have players and their union representation worried about future infections.
The vaccination guidelines are an effort in reducing the danger for the players. While there has been skepticism about the efficacy of vaccines, there is no doubt that widespread vaccination efforts in the United States have made a massive difference in the toll COVID has taken. While the U.S. is still suffering nearly 380 deaths a day, that number was consistently over 4,000 before vaccinations started happening. With the U.S. at 42% fully vaccinated, figures are trending downward.
With concerns abound about cases of privacy and businesses potentially dictating to their employees particular mandates about vaccination, it is important to stress that this is not what the NFLPA is doing. The Players Association is the closest thing the players have to democratic representation at their job. It is a body of the players, for the players. Which is not to say the organization is perfect, but rather that they are theoretically separate from the corporate structure of the NFL and are using the power vested in them by the players to ensure a safer working environment.
Everyone wants an NFL season that is COVID-free. Both for the sake of the games and, more importantly, for the sake of the health of players and other workers across the league. These guidelines are thorough and tough, but they are a clear pathway to safely play the 2021-2022 season.