The NFL‘s announcement that it won’t delay or postpone games in the upcoming season to accommodate a coronavirus outbreak among unvaccinated players and staff was met with criticism by some of the game’s biggest stars.
For the first time in NFL history, each team will play 17 games in the 2021 regular season and in a memorandum sent to the teams on Thursday the league indicated it would make “every reasonable effort” to stick to its 272-game schedule.
Following an agreement with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), the NFL has encouraged players to get vaccinated, but hasn’t made it mandatory.
However, the memorandum released on Thursday provides a huge incentive for clubs to ensure players and staff are vaccinated.
“Every club is obligated under the Constitution and Bylaws to have its team ready to play at the scheduled time and place,” it reads. “A failure to do so is deemed conduct detrimental. There is no right to postpone a game.”
The news went down like a lead balloon with some NFL players. Arizona Cardinals star wideout DeAndre Hopkins hinted he could question his future in the NFL because of the pressure being applied to players to take the vaccine.
“Never thought I would say this, But being 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,” Hopkins wrote.
He subsequently deleted the tweet, before posting with more conciliatory follow-up tweets hinting at “freedom” and stating he “has nine more years left in me.”
Hopkins wasn’t alone in voicing his opposition to the NFL’s vaccination campaign.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette indicated he was unlikely to get jabbed. “Vaccine I can’t do it…,” the reigning Super Bowl champion wrote in a subsequently deleted tweet.
Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, meanwhile, noted players shouldn’t feel under pressure to get vaccinated.
“I know 2 people right now who got the vaccine but are covid positive… I’m just saying. I wouldn’t look at a teammate as bad if he don’t get the vax, no pressure,” he wrote.
New England Patriots linebacker Matt Judon didn’t address the issue of vaccination directly, but reacted to the NFL memorandum with a scathing criticism of the NFLPA.
The organization “f***ing sucks”, Judon tweeted.
Former Patriots safety Darius Butler said the NFL memorandum “was wrong” and called for players to have a choice.
In a subsequent tweet, Butler clarified he wasn’t against the vaccine, but against “people bullied” and “near forced into taking the vaccine.”
Speaking to ESPN, meanwhile, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott acknowledged vaccination was a delicate issue, and that players couldn’t be forced to do something they didn’t want to do.
“I got the vaccine just because I wanted to put myself in the best situation to be out there for my team week in and week out,” the 26-year-old, who was diagnosed with COVID last summer, said.
“But I mean, not everyone feels that strongly or maybe other people still have their view of vaccines. You can’t force someone to do something that they don’t want to do to their body. […] I mean it’s everyone’s body. Can’t tell them what to do with it. So I mean it’s kind of touchy. You just can’t go tell somebody.”
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley has been one of the most vocal opponents of the vaccine among NFL players.
In June, Beasley said he would be “out in public” and urged people to steer “clear of him” if they were scared. On Tuesday, the 32-year-old upped the ante saying he would get only get vaccinated if Pfizer gave him an earnings share.
NFL Vaccination Rate Is High
Despite opposition from Beasley and other high-profile players, vaccination rates are high in the NFL.
In the memorandum on Thursday, league commissioner Roger Goodell said over 75 percent of players were at least partially vaccinated and over half of the 32 franchises had reported vaccination rates for players of above 80 percent.
Despite it being played amid soaring coronavirus cases, the NFL completed its regular season as scheduled last year. However, several COVID outbreaks forced it to reschedule a number of games, sometimes at short notice.
That option was no longer on the table for the upcoming season, Goodell said in the memo on Thursday.
“We do not anticipate adding a ’19th week’ to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season,” the memorandum read.
The league, however, acknowledged it may have to make concession for teams that suffered a coronavirus outbreak among vaccinated players.
In such an event, the league said it “will attempt to minimize the competitive and financial burden on both participating teams.”