NFL Teams Face Potential Forfeits For COVID-19 Outbreaks
The league informed teams they could potentially forfeit a game because of a COVID-19 outbreak among nonvaccinated players, and players on both teams wouldn’t get paid for that week.
Santa Clara County, where the San Francisco 49ers train and play their NFL home games, has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in California. As of July 11, more than 76% of its vaccine-eligible residents were fully vaccinated, partly because the county and the 49ers franchise turned Levi’s Stadium into a mass inoculation site where more than 350,000 doses were administered over four months.
The 49ers themselves, however, are not so enthusiastic about the shots. In June, head coach Kyle Shanahan said only 53 of the 91 athletes on the team roster — 58% — were fully vaccinated. The team has issued no updates since.
There's more incentive now.
On Thursday, the NFL informed teams they could potentially forfeit a game because of a COVID-19 outbreak among nonvaccinated players, and players on both teams wouldn’t get paid that week.
The memo, sent to teams by Commissioner Roger Goodell, adds that the league doesn’t anticipate adding a 19th week to accommodate games that can’t be rescheduled within the 18-week regular season. However, forfeits are among the consequences.
The league says more than half its teams have COVID-19 vaccination rates greater than 80% of their players, and more than 75% of players are in the process of being vaccinated. But vaccine holdouts remain a possibility.
“It’s everyone’s choice whether they want to get vaccinated or not,” Sam Darnold, the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback, said in June when revealing that he had not gotten a shot. “For me, I’m staying by myself right now. I don’t have a family or anything like that. There’s a ton of different things that go into it.”
Comments like Darnold’s and those of Buffalo Bills receiver Cole Beasley, who tweeted a long rant casting the vaccines as a threat to “my way of living and my values,” have dominated news cycles.
“It’s a different decision for everybody,” the 49ers’ Shanahan said.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaq Barrett said he and his wife had received vaccines, but as for encouraging teammates, “it’s to each their own. I don’t know why people wouldn’t get it, but whatever makes you comfortable, whatever helps you sleep at night, you do that.”
Bucs coach Bruce Arians has said he won't force any player to receive the vaccine but has been direct in his desire to get a shot in every player.
At least one Tampa Bay player may have an issue with the vaccine. On Thursday, running back Leonard Fournette tweeted, "Vaccine I can’t do it.” The tweet was later deleted.
Another tweet that was later deleted came from Arizona Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Hopkins wrote, “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.”
Zachary Binney, a sports epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta, believes pro athletes aren’t that different from the rest of us when it comes to vaccines: “A lot of them are vaccinated. A lot of them are willing to become vaccinated. Some of them have concerns. And some of them just are not going to do it — and they are never going to do it.”
That NFL vaccine rates are higher than they are for young U.S. adults as a whole.
The NFL has already set heavy restrictions on unvaccinated players — they must be tested daily and wear masks at team facilities, and can’t leave the hotel when they’re on the road — while mostly lifting the restraints on those who’ve received their shots.
The teams and union have informed players about the risks and benefits of the vaccines, even bringing in experts to meet with players. On a recent media call, Dr. Thom Mayer, the NFL players association’s medical director, said players had contacted him with all manner of questions about the vaccines, including about reports of rare heart inflammation in young men post-mRNA vaccination, how long antibodies might last in their systems and whether the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization of the vaccines meant they were less well-tested than fully licensed products.
“They are serious, thoughtful questions that deserve serious and thoughtful answers,” Mayer said during the call. “I’ll say what our players say: They’re grown-ass men. You give them grown-ass facts and they’ll make a grown-ass decision.”
Information from Kaiser Health News' Mark Krieder and the Associated Press was used in this report.