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Goodell, NFL Tighten COVID Vaccination Policy

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell standing at a podium reading "NFL" in 2017.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017. Photo by Sam Benson Smith/WEBN-TV via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Tuesday, all 32 NFL teams will have reported to their respective training camps to begin preparing for the 2021 season and the new 17-game regular season reality.

But for all that might be different, there is the never-ending constant of the National Football League: the relentless pursuit of the almighty dollar.

That inexorable, unyielding chase of profit is reflected in a memo distributed to the clubs last week by Commissioner Smilin’ Roger Goodell, which pretty much lays bare what the league is all about.

Goodell said that unlike last season, when the league postponed five games and rescheduled 10 others because of COVID spread among rosters, the show will go on this year.

The league will impose forfeits on teams that cannot meet kickoffs because of coronavirus spread.

Goodell’s memo zeroed in on those players who are unvaccinated and thus could spread infections.

Because insistence on vaccinations is forbidden unless it is collectively bargained with the players’ union, Goodell could not directly order players to get vaccinated.

So, he first drew up delineations between fully vaccinated and non-vaccinated players. Those who have not received a shot must undergo daily COVID testing, must wear masks and have restrictions on how they travel to games.

Those limitations do not apply to vaccinated players. In addition, teams that reach a certain level of vaccination among the ranks will have more lenient protocols during the week of preparation than teams that don’t.

But when that wasn’t enough to guarantee more participation, Goodell upped the ante in perhaps the only way that matters: he started messin’ with the players’ money.

Goodell’s memo laid out that if a team must forfeit because of an outbreak caused by unvaccinated players, not only will the players on that roster not get paid, but players on the opposing team will lose game checks as well.

From there, it was time to play the feud, as it were. You see, professional athletes will generally abide any conduct from teammates.

Wanna get drunk? Go ahead.

Wanna say that vaccinations are unproven and risky? Be my guest.

Cost me thousands because you don’t want to get a shot? Now, we have a problem.

Indeed, it didn’t take long for some players to complain that their freedoms were being implicitly threatened by the memo.

While some players grudgingly got vaccinated, some others, namely Arizona wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, hinted that he might leave the game in protest over the Hobson’s choice he and other players were being presented.

Given the sudden rise in hospitalizations and deaths thanks to the Delta variant of the coronavirus, it is difficult to muster a lot of sympathy for recalcitrant players, especially with a U.S. Covid death toll over 600-thousand, roughly the size of the city of Baltimore.

But then, too, it’s hard to get behind the tactics of an organization that consistently proves that when it comes to the well-being of its members, its most important color is neither red, white or blue, but green.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

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Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.