NFL is applying pressure to get players vaccinated by using terms they understand: money and game results

The NFL distributed a memo to all teams Thursday, outlining how it will handle outbreaks that result in games being canceled and it significantly raises the stakes. The steps include the potential forfeit of that game by the team that sustains the outbreak, coupled with possible financial penalties for the organization and the loss of game checks for players on both teams.

The message was clear: Unvaccinated players can potentially undermine a team’s fortunes in a very tangible way.

It was the boldest step yet by a league that has been taking an increasingly tougher posture as it tries to influence players to get vaccinated. The NFL has not made vaccines mandatory and is not believed to have intentions of doing so. But the newly announced measures will put renewed pressure on unvaccinated players to get immunized.

The new procedures are in addition to other strict protocols announced previously, such as daily testing, mask requirements and travel restrictions for unvaccinated players. Those policies do not apply to fully vaccinated players. The league also earlier introduced protocols that apply to teams as a whole, with those who have vaccination rates of 85 percent or higher able to enjoy relaxed protocols that will make game preparation easier throughout the week.

Asked his opinion of the procedures announced Thursday, Colts owner Jim Irsay framed them as necessary steps, not punishment.

“No one’s trying to be punitive or anything like that,” he said. “It’s just if your choice is not to get vaccinated, it’s going to be a much more difficult season. You’re going to be isolated more. You’re not going to be able to socialize, do the normal things. You’re going to have to be encumbered with a mask. Things are there, but it’s not for punishment. It’s for the safety of the others who have been vaccinated and for the safety of everyone.

” … it’s not a question of leveraging someone into getting vaccinated. With the freedom of choice out there, if you’re not vaccinated, you have to have rules of engagement that are fair for everyone. That’s what all these things try to aim at, not to leverage or be punitive to someone who chooses not to.”

Irsay also hit on an issue that seems to be a key factor in whatever vaccine hesitancy remains among players: misinformation. NFL players are no different than the general public and can be easily influenced, he said.

One example of what NFL teams are up against came from Bills starting offensive lineman Jonathan Feliciano, who tweeted the following Thursday.

It must be something in that Buffalo water considering how WR Cole Beasley has been arrogantly passionate about not being vaccinated yet never giving a reason as to why that isn’t easily discredited by openly known facts.

“It’s crazy right now to see people dying in hospitals because they wouldn’t get vaccinated,” Irsay said. “And, of course, the internet spreads all kinds of crazy rumors and people come up with unfounded theories with unfounded data, no medical data to back it at all. And it’s kind of an aspect of the society we live in. People spend a lot of time on the phone with the internet. There’s a lot of so-called experts out there and it’s misleading. But it’s the times that we’re in, in 2021.”

Irsay added, “You’ve gotta be careful who you take counsel from. We’re trying to do our best to tell our players what we think is no question the best path to go down.”

Meanwhile, Thursday’s memo makes it clear the NFL has dramatically altered its attitude toward COVID-related schedule changes. The league postponed five games and moved 10 other contests in 2020, but that was before vaccines were available to the general public. It’s possible the NFL won’t be as accommodating this season. Under the new guidelines, if a game is postponed and the league cannot find a date within the regular season to reschedule, a forfeit will be called if the original postponement was caused by an outbreak among unvaccinated players.

Such a measure would negatively impact both vaccinated and unvaccinated players, so this has now become an issue of competitive advantage.

You can expect mixed reactions, such as the one expressed by Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins in a tweet he later deleted.

“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 tweeted.

You can bet that the financial implications are going to get players’ attention, too. A scenario where both teams involved in the forfeited game lose their game checks would prompt a level of outrage we’ve rarely seen from players.

The implications for teams are significant, too. NFL clubs face steep financial burdens if they are the cause of a forfeit.

The memo puts the lost home team revenue onus on the “guilty” teams. For a typical NFL home game, that is tens of millions of dollars.

If the forfeit is a Sunday afternoon game, another game can be shown to the geographic audience. But if the forfeited game is, say, a “Monday Night Football” contest, ESPN pays on average more than $100 million for each one. Would the NFL stick that bill to the team responsible for the forfeit? The NFL did not respond to a question on who is responsible for prospectively lost TV money.

There are few things that the NFL as a whole can agree on, but money and game results are terms understood in every locker room. A lot of players can’t afford to miss game checks considering the window to earn is so narrow. Wins and losses weigh heavy on everyones mental so nobody wants to forfeit a game because a teammate contracts covid causing a breakout within the locker room.

The NFL as a league was heavy handed in their pursuit to get everyone vaccinated, but they did not over step either. The vaccinations are available, and those of who are vaccinated are allowed to live life as if the pandemic wasn’t a thing and this is just a regular season. No limitations on where they can go our what they can do. That is the privilege they earned by getting vaccinated.

On the other end of the spectrum, those of who have not been vaccinated, baring the reason, have to abide by guidelines. Strict guidelines, but necessary ones if you ask me.

The league has given two paths for its players and coaches, the decision they make will determine their way of life over the course of the 2021 season.

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