The NFL is almost back to business as usual — for vaccinated players.
The NFL and NFL Players Association have updated COVID-19 protocols to loosen restrictions for fully vaccinated players and to encourage others to get the vaccine.
Unvaccinated players must continue to get daily testing, wear masks and practice physical distancing. They won’t be allowed to eat meals with teammates, can’t participate in media or marketing activities while traveling, aren’t permitted to use the sauna or steam room and may not leave the team hotel or interact with people outside the team while traveling.
Vaccinated players will not have any of those restrictions, according to a memo sent to teams on Wednesday that was obtained by The Associated Press.
Media access to the press box, field and sidelines, locker room and postgame interview room will be available only to media members who are fully vaccinated.
Several players have expressed concerns about receiving the vaccine. The updated protocols give them more incentive to get it.
Players can be fined up to $50,000 for violating protocols.
Washington pass rusher Montez Sweat said last week he “probably won’t get vaccinated until I got more facts and that type of stuff, but I’m not a fan of it at all.”
Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold previously said he didn't plan to get the vaccine.
“Obviously, they agreed to those terms for a reason," Darnold said about the new protocols. "A lot of smart people came up with those restrictions and obviously they are there for a reason. In terms of my decision (on whether) to get vaccinated, I’m just going to keep that to myself. For me, it’s a personal decision that I’m going to make between me and people around me. So I’m just going to keep it within me and my tight circle. Those decisions are being made by very smart people and people that know what they’d doing obviously.”
Teams have brought in experts to discuss the vaccine with players and staff.
“They’re doing a great job of continuing to educate us and giving us resources and then kind of giving us the option to make that informed decision with where we’re at personally and go from there,” Minnesota Vikings wide reciever Adam Thielen said.
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was asked if other players have spoken to him about the vaccine because he was a biology major at Oregon.
“I haven’t talked to too many people about it," he said. "There’s a small group of guys that have been vaccinated, and I’ve been vaccinated. I thought if it’s available to be able to do all these things, it would help me in the long run. I think it’s better for everyone, but it’s up to everyone. So it’s their opinion. I think it’s a tough situation regardless, but nobody’s asked me too much.”
The vaccine has been a big issue for the Buffalo Bills throughout the offseason, with coaches and management pushing for vaccination to ease restrictions and players not wanting to talk about it.
“We feel like we know that in our country and around the league where and how things are improving, and to me there’s a direct correlation to people getting vaccinated,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. "I would like to continue to see our team move in that direction, continue to move an increased number of people that are getting vaccinated. ... It’s good to have the guys here, but I think the reality of our situation is that now — but also for sure come the fall, training camp — protocols are going to continue to be enforced, in particular for those who are unvaccinated as it relates to the masking and the different things that are in place. Just trying to be real about it and make sure people understand what normal is gonna look like, in particular for those who are unvaccinated come the fall.”
AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writers Steve Reed, Stephen Whyno, John Wawrow and Joe Reedy contributed to this report.
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