Mike Brown described it well.
When asked about COVID-19 during the Cincinnati Bengals’ preseason luncheon on Monday, the team’s owner said, “I think the league has tried to put the teams and players on notice.”
The hope here is that college athletics, specifically college football, is noticing exactly what the NFL is doing with regard to handling the coronavirus pandemic, which is, as Brown put it, “still with us” thanks to the Delta variant.
Its message is clear. Get vaccinated. The league can’t mandate that players be vaccinated, but it can legislate. If vaccinated, a player can pretty much return to 2019, with the exception of taking a COVID-19 test every two weeks. If unvaccinated, a player must wear a mask, practice social distancing and submit to daily testing. He will not be allowed to eat meals with the rest of the team, use the sauna or steam room, or interact with people outside the team on road trips. If a player breaks protocol, he will be fined $14,650 for each violation. No ifs, ands or buts.
Bottom line: After taking a financial hit in 2020 because of the pandemic, the NFL wants no part of going through that again. “We lost our local revenue stream,” Brown said Monday. “Thankfully, we did not lose our television revenue stream.”
So for 2021, if a team is unable to play because of a COVID-19 outbreak, and the game cannot be re-scheduled within the season’s framework, the team will forfeit. That’s an L. Even worse, its players, and the players on the other team won’t get a game check. This is known as peer pressure.
There has been pushback, of course. Buffalo wide receiver Cole Beasley, an anti-vaxxer, has been vocal about his opposition. Star Arizona receiver DeAndre Hopkins threatened to retire on Twitter before deleting the tweet. Tampa Bay running back Leonard Fournette first tweeted “can’t do it” with regard to the vax, but has since said he is reconsidering.
As of last weekend, however, the league reported that 80 percent of its players had received at least one shot. Just five teams are under 70 percent. Brown said Monday that about 90 percent of the Bengals are either fully vaccinated or on their way to being fully vaccinated. Head coach Zac Taylor said there were less than 10 players on the current 86-man roster who had not received a shot, and another 10 will have received their second shot within the next week.
At the opening of Kansas City’s training camp, Chiefs Coach Andy Reid said his team was one of six that was 90 percent vaccinated.
“I think it’s just guys talking to each other,” Reid said. “I think it’s trusting your medical staff, which ends up being important in this. Not everybody understands and has been educated on this, or listened I guess. Maybe they have been educated but they’re not listening as close. Then, you’ve got to make a decision.
“We’ve all had to do this. So, you’ve got to make a decision on how you want to go forward and the league’s got their policy if you don’t have it, and they’ve got policy if you have had it. Obviously, if you’ve had it, it’s a little bit easier road. I mean, the other one’s very similar to last year if you haven’t had it, and that wasn’t the easiest thing to get through I think for everybody.”
The vaccine is a requirement for NFL coaches and staff. There has been pushback from at least a couple of coaches. Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach Rick Dennison has reportedly parted ways with the team over his refusal to get vaccinated. Same for New England Patriots co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich.
[Report: Dennison works out deal with Vikings]
It was reported Monday that, despite receiving the vaccine, Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich tested positive for COVID-19. The Colts are among the least-vaccinated teams in the league. Reich said he had little to no symptoms, and urged his players to get the vaccine.
That’s the thing. Even vaccinated, with the extremely contagious Delta variant, you can still get COVID-19. But the vaccine significantly lowers your chances of becoming seriously ill or being hospitalized.
Meanwhile, at least week’s SEC Football Media Days, Commissioner Greg Sankey urged teams and players to get vaccinated. He also raised the possibility of teams forfeiting games if they are unable to play because of an outbreak. He also said just six of the league’s 14 teams were at an 80 percent vaccinate rate. UK is not one of those six teams.
Alabama is one of the six, and then some. Nick Saban reported that the Tide is close to 90 percent vaccinated. Georgia Coach Kirby Smart said that 85 percent of his Bulldogs are vaccinated. Alabama and Georgia are picked to win their respective divisions.
Then there is Houston Texans linebacker Jonathan Greenard, who starred at Florida after transferring from Louisville. Greenard told USA Today he was hesitant about taking the vaccine until losing his stepfather (at age 54) and nearly his mother to the virus.
“I’m young and in good health,” Greenard said. “But it’s not about us. It’s about the ones around us who are older and have underlying conditions. We have a chance to save them and give them a couple more years or however longer. It’s not up to us. It’s up to us to keep those safe around us.”
Update: NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reports that as of Tuesday morning, 85% of NFL players overall have received at least one vaccine shot. There are 14 teams who more than 90 percent of their players vaccinated.