There’s just over a week left before the new National Football League season kicks off, and the players’ union is already bickering over Covid guidelines.
The NFL Players Association agreed to renew its Covid policy for the 2021 season, primarily mimicking 2020 policies, including daily testing and mask mandates. However, with the delta variant causing a surge in Covid cases, there are ongoing discussions about mandating vaccines for players.
At a media conference last week, NFL general counsel Lawrence Ferazani said the league welcomes a player vaccine mandate that the NFLPA should approve. Ferazani was responding to a question regarding NFLPA president and Cleveland Browns offensive lineman JC Tretter, who claimed the NFL had never discussed a mandate. Tretter told a Cleveland radio show that the time “has already passed” for the league to mandate players, especially with the season so close.
The NFL said it was confused by Tretter’s comments and reiterated that it would prefer a player mandate.
“We have been talking to the players’ association about mandatory vaccination from the start,” Ferazani said in the media appeal last Thursday. “We took the lead and had to have staff and coaches vaccinated. We would like to see that mandate come into effect tomorrow,” he added.
The NFL also said it is still in talks with the NFLPA about additional testing for vaccinated players. Currently, these players are tested every 14 days, but the league wants to move that to every seven days. Non-vaccinated players must be tested every day, including on days off and during their retirement week.
The NFL said the NFLPA is proposing daily tests for all players. The union did not return a CNBC request for comment to clarify its position on the matter.
The league last week fined two unvaccinated Buffalo Bills players for violating mask guidelines. Wideout Isaiah McKenzie was fined more than $14,000 for not wearing a mask. Days after the financial fine, McKenzie took to Instagram to announce that he had received the first dose of the vaccine. Recipient Cole Beasley, an outspoken critic of the vaccine, was also fined.
While some still object to receiving the vaccine, the NFL said “nearly 93% of players have been vaccinated,” along with more than 99% of team and league personnel. The league acknowledged the “big rise” in Covid cases across the country and warned it would likely see positive tests throughout the season.
The NFL uses genetic sequencing on positive cases to determine the Covid variant. The league said most of the new cases are delta-related, and NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills added that the variant “caused a number of cases in teams, meaning more than one positive. But that didn’t become an outbreak.”
But the Tennessee Titans did have a mini-breakout. Nine people, including head coach Mike Vrabel, tested positive for Covid. Within this incident, the NFL noted that 38% of the unvaccinated players on the team tested positive. Between August 1 and 21, the NFL said it had 68 positive cases in its 7,190 tests.
The NFL also doesn’t require its umpires to be fully vaccinated, but that could change if other leagues enforce mandates.
On Saturday, the National Basketball Association reached a vaccine mandate agreement with its Umpires Association. The pact requires all umpires to be fully vaccinated for the upcoming 2021-22 season “unless they have a religious or medical exemption,” the league said. The NBA added that umpires would make recommended booster shots. Officials who do not get vaccinated are not allowed to play NBA games.
NFL team owners have vowed not to extend the season due to outbreaks, threatening to impose forfeitures and fine teams and players if delays occurred. Media partners who paid the league more than $100 billion for newfound TV rights lost to ad inventory due to NFL game postponement in 2020.
Despite Covid continuing to wreak havoc within the league, the NFL said it has no plans to curtail attendance, although some NFL teams are requiring fans to be vaccinated before entry. The NFL lost more than $4 billion last season due to a limited number of fans in the stadiums.
The NFL’s 102nd campaign kicks off on September 9 as the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosts the Dallas Cowboys.