The NFL has a new unofficial motto: Get vaxed and the rules are relaxed.
The league and its Players Association agreed to updated protocols in and outside of team facilities that create two very different sets of rules for those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who have not. While it may not be the full intent of the new guidelines, it certainly incentivizes players to receive their recommended doses of the vaccine before the start of training camps.
Those training camps are expected to open on July 27 for most teams. That gives players about eight weeks to reach full vaccination status.
"The union joins us in encouraging all players to get vaccinated," commissioner Roger Goodell said on Wednesday. "We know for a fact that that is the one step everyone can take that makes them safer."
Among the benefits of vaccination in football terms will be the elimination of daily testing, no mask requirements at team facilities, no restrictions on travel or interactions with friends and family during travel, the ability to use the cafeteria for meals and the weight rooms and saunas at the facility, and no quarantine in the event of exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Essentially it will be back to normal.
Unvaccinated players and personnel will continue to be tested, have to wear masks and social distance, and have limited access to team amenities. Perhaps most significantly they will be subject to quarantines if exposed to anyone who has tested positive, which could lead to missed practices and even games.
Goodell did not have data on how many players have been vaccinated – this is their offseason and many are away from team facilities during voluntary workouts – but he did say 30 of the 32 teams have at least 90 percent of their Tier I and Tier II non-player personnel vaccinated. The remaining two teams are above 85 percent.
As for fans once football returns to live action in late summer, Goodell said they should expect "a much more normal experience" in 2021 than they had in 2020 when crowds were either banned or limited at most games. Thirty of the 32 teams are operating under rules that would allow for them to have full capacity in their stadiums, and Goodell said the remaining two are expected to have local guidelines allow for that in time for the contests to begin.
"There is a tremendous amount of optimism and excitement that we will have full stadiums across our league this year," Goodell said. "It’s very possible that some, particularly non-vaccinated personnel, may need to have masks on, but those are things that we’ll continue to follow closely."