Like the majority of the world, the NFL is preparing for somewhat of a "return to normal" amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has wreaked havoc on the sports world over the past year, and all leagues are continuing to adjust and implement new protocols to stop the spread and keep their athletes safe and healthy. On Tuesday, the NFL sent a memo to all 32 teams strongly encouraging all players and employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
The league told clubs that any team employee who refuses a COVID-19 vaccination without "bona fide medical or religious ground" will not have Tier 1 or Tier 2 status, which would give them restricted access within team facilities and also greatly limit access to players. Voluntary offseason programs are expected to start later this month, and the league is creating further steps to promote vaccine availability and acceptance. The NFL is not requiring players to get vaccinated, but is certainly trying to steer everyone in that direction.
The league also expects all teams to use their stadium or training facility as a vaccination site for club staff, players and eligible family members. Additionally, teams have to report on a weekly basis the number of employees who have been vaccinated.
"This can be done through a 'Vaccination Day' (or its equivalent), which many clubs have already planned, or by making vaccine appointments available to your employees and their families on a convenient and regular basis," the memo read. "Clubs should update the league office of their plans in this respect, and percentage of tiered staff vaccinated by April 19."
Conversations are fluid about what offseason programs will look like, as Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network notes. The NFLPA wants everything to be virtual, and has urged players to boycott if that is not the case. The Denver Broncos decided this week that they would not be attending voluntary workouts in the name of safety. The Seattle Seahawks followed suit as well, releasing a statement on Tuesday.
"We are actively discussing with the NFLPA a set of protocol changes that would apply to clubs where vaccination levels reach a certain threshold and would give vaccinated individuals significant relief from requirements relating to testing, PPE use, physical distancing, travel and other subjects," the memo closed with. "Similar protocol changes have been adopted in other sports leagues and the prospect of relaxing COVID protocols in the NFL should help encourage players and staff to be vaccinated."