The Contentious State of Vaccines in the NFL

Alexander Bingham, Sports Editor

As the National Football League (NFL) hopes to play out the upcoming season with minimal disruptions from COVID-19, vaccines have become a contentious issue throughout the League. While the NFL has reached a player vaccination rate of over 90%, far above the national average, many players have still voiced their displeasure with the League’s push for a fully vaccinated game. 

After the NFL players’ union did not consent to a vaccine mandate, Commissioner Roger Goodell and the League instituted several rules to pressure players into getting the vaccine. The League set up more frequent testing for unvaccinated players and added a five-day mandatory quarantine period if deemed close to a positive case. This can create a massive competitive disadvantage for unvaccinated players; they’re at a much higher risk of missing crucial practices and games. Unlike last year, when the League rescheduled games if positive cases arose, the NFL told teams that they might have to forfeit a game if there is an outbreak.

These rules faced vocal opposition. Arizona Cardinals star receiver Deandre Hopkins mentioned in a now-deleted tweet that the regulations have him considering retirement, stating that “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.” While Hopkins has remained in the NFL, others, such as Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach Rick Denison, have resigned due to their unwillingness to get vaccinated. 

The pushback against the League’s vaccine rules has caused frustration from coaches such as Ron Rivera of the Washington Football Team, who is immunocompromised because of a history of squamous cell carcinoma, a type of cancer. After several of his players landed on the COVID-19/reserve list, Rivera said in an interview that he is “beyond frustrated” with his team’s low vaccination rates. With the competitive disadvantages of being unvaccinated, many speculate about the impact that vaccination status will have cuts made as teams transition from a 90 to a 53 man roster. 

…vaccination status is far from a guarantee in the NFL, as teams and players attempt to navigate the pandemic and its implications. ”

When the New England Patriots made the surprising move of cutting veteran quarterback Cam Newton, there were obvious questions over whether Newton being unvaccinated impacted the decision. Earlier in training camp, he had to miss five days of practice due to a mandatory quarantine after missing a test. Head coach Bill Belichick put these questions to rest in an interview, claiming that other factors motivated his decision. However, speculation remains over the exact motives behind this decision. The NFL Players Association, whose contract bans the use of vaccination status to inform employment decisions, launched an investigation into Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer, who reportedly considered vaccination status when creating the team roster. 

As players feel the repercussions of unvaccinated life in the NFL, vaccination rates may begin to rise. But for now, vaccination status is far from a guarantee in the NFL, as teams and players attempt to navigate the pandemic and its implications.