Possible forfeitures due to COVID-19 outbreaks could drastically affect revenue for the league.

Prior to the start of the 2021 season, the National Football League (NFL) announced fines to be handed down to unvaccinated players for violating COVID-19 protocols. Each offense will result in a $14,650 fine, whether it’s for not wearing a mask or not social distancing. Instead of dangling fines above unvaccinated players’ heads, the NFL should create a mandate, making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory. 

The NFL updated its COVID-19 guidelines Aug. 30. Unvaccinated players must be tested daily. If an unvaccinated player misses a day of testing, they aren’t allowed in the team facility again until they have five straight days of negative tests. If an unvaccinated player tests positive for COVID-19, they must quarantine for at least 10 days. 

A pro regarding the fines is that it may urge unvaccinated players to get their vaccines. However, many NFL players are wealthy. The average NFL player’s salary in 2021 is $1-1.5 million. To some players, $14,000 may be spent like it’s nothing — but no one wants money taken out of their pocket for simply not wearing a mask. Yet, there’s a major flaw in this rule. A vaccinated person can still contract and spread COVID-19. 

Perhaps that’s why the National Football League Player's Association (NFLPA) said it wants to increase COVID-19 testing and make masks mandatory for all players regardless of vaccination status. Since vaccinated players currently aren’t required to wear masks, it puts unvaccinated players at risk because they aren’t protected by a vaccine. Mandating that all players be vaccinated would resolve this issue. 

The league has also stated that it isn’t going to reschedule games outside of the 18-week schedule due to COVID-19 outbreaks. If a team has an outbreak and their game can’t be rescheduled, they’ll lose by forfeit and players won’t get paid — which seems like quite the punishment for getting sick. 

Forfeiting games not only hurts player pay and the league’s revenue, but it also takes its toll on the NFL fan base as well. JMU senior Gates Dunham has been an avid football fan since he was 8 years old. His favorite team is the New York Giants, and he said he’d be disappointed if they had to forfeit games due to a COVID-19 outbreak. 

“That would be heartbreaking, especially over something that’s not in control of the players,” Dunham said. “That would suck, especially something that’s affecting my own team.”

Although Dunham would be disappointed if games would be forfeited, he  said, he knows the NFL has good intentions. Its goal is to keep players healthy so they can do what they’re paid to do.

“I understand what the NFL’s doing,” Dunham said, “they just want to get through as best as possible so everyone’s able to play throughout the entire season.”

The NFL’s message says once 100% of players are vaccinated, there’s no need for COVID-19 protocols. The rule that games won’t be rescheduled and players won’t be paid, however, is absurd. It’s one thing to mandate mask policies, but to punish people for contracting COVID-19 is out of line. One could argue that if athletes follow COVID-19 guidelines, no one would get sick, therefore making the punishment acceptable. 

It’s been well-established, though, that even if someone is doing all the right things to prevent COVID-19 contraction, they can still get it. It’s understandable why the league wants to put these rules in place to keep players healthy — avoiding postponed games benefits its bottom line. Yet, it should enforce rules that are reasonable.

The NFL’s COVID-19 protocols are too convoluted with senseless punishments, whereas a vaccine mandate would simplify the process. They seemed to have no problem mandating a vaccine for staff who work “in close proximity to players. Unfortunately, the union doesn’t believe a mandatory vaccine for players is the best idea. The league has said it believes if the union leaders green light a vaccine mandate, it could lead to backlash from players who don’t want a vaccine.    

“We know vaccines are effective, but we also know our strict protocols — when followed — are effective, as we proved last year,” NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told Mark Maske of The Washington Post.

Atallah calling the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols strict is correct — in regard to the unvaccinated. Vaccinated players are tested only once a week, they aren’t required to wear masks or social distance and aren’t required to isolate if they come in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

The NFL’s COVID-19 protocols aren’t effective because vaccinated players can still spread the virus. Even if the league is 100% fully vaccinated, the virus can still spread. At that point, the league is doing everything it can to protect its players. The NFLPA should take the risk of a player revolt because fines and forfeited games will hurt players and the league more than mandatory vaccines. 

The NFLPA should also realize that the vaccines are approved by federal agencies. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in August. Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock assures people that the Pfizer vaccine is risk-free.

“The public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” Woodcock said. 

It’s time for the NFLPA to step up and join the league in mandating COVID-19 vaccines. There won’t be the need to put penalties in place for unvaccinated players and the threat of canceling games. The vaccines are safe, and if the entire league becomes fully vaccinated, the players and NFLPA will realize they were holding out for nothing.