The NFL has put a number of protocols in place to encourage players and team personnel to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and refusal to get vaccinated could now be the difference between a win and loss.
In a memo that was issued to teams on Thursday, the NFL outlined its plans for dealing with coronavirus outbreaks during the 2021 season. The biggest takeaway was that teams could be forced to forfeit if a game cannot be played due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players. The NFL has no plans to add a 19th week to accommodate games that need to be rescheduled, which means any game that is rescheduled will have to be played at some point within the 18-week season. Otherwise, the team with the outbreak will be credited with a loss.
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero shared more from the memo, which states that teams with outbreaks could also face disciplinary action and be responsible for financial losses. Players also will not receive their game checks if a game cannot be played.
The NFL already has different rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated players and staff. Those who are vaccinated have received more freedom and are not under as strict protocol.
A report this week claimed the NFL is working on ways to identify unvaccinated players during games and practices by providing visual proof. That would likely lead to “vaccine shaming,” which is the goal for some. Others feel outing those who have chosen not to receive a vaccine would be a gross violation of privacy.
Some teams have already achieved over 85 percent vaccination rates among teams. However, a recent report said at least two teams were under 50 percent. Altogether, about 73 percent of players in the NFL are vaccinated.
The NFL is not requiring players to get the COVID-19 vaccine this season, but life will certainly be difficult for those who don’t. It could also be quite costly.
As Mark Maske of the Washington Post notes, the NFL and NFL Players Association have agreed that players who are not vaccinated can be fined for a variety of reasons during training camp and the preseason. Unvaccinated players will be fined $14,650 for violations including going to bars or nightclubs indoors or attending an indoor concert.
Players can also be fined $50,000 for a number of reasons, including failure to cooperate with an investigation into a potential protocol violation.
You can see how there will be a lot of pressure on players to get the vaccine — even those who are not comfortable with it. One star player spoke out this week about the NFLPA agreeing to the restrictions on unvaccinated players.
The Kansas City Chiefs endured a significant COVID-19 scare in the leadup to Super Bowl LV, and it could have been even worse.
Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and center Daniel Kilgore were both placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Monday due to a close contact with a positive test. That contact turned out to be a barber who had been brought to the team facility and cut both Robinson and Kilgore’s hair.
The barber received a positive result on a rapid test Sunday that he took upon entering the facility, and was immediately sent home. As it turns out, it could have been even worse. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that over 20 players and staffers, including quarterback Patrick Mahomes, were slated to get haircuts on Sunday before the positive test.
In other words, if not for the rapid test, a huge contingent of players could have been isolated as close contacts days before the Super Bowl. Neither Robinson or Kilgore has tested positive. Both players will be allowed to play in Sunday’s game as long as they continue to test negative.
The Chiefs have had their fair share of COVID scares this season, but this was the most significant. Thankfully, the rapid testing saved them from a very difficult and precarious situation.
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Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns has tested positive for COVID-19, and he announced it in an emotional message Friday.
Towns’ family has been ravaged by the virus, as seven members of his family have died from it, including his mother. Towns’ message alludes to that, even concluding with a promise to his niece and nephew that “I will not end up in a box next to grandma.”
Parts of the announcement are legitimately tough to read in light of what Towns and his family have endured as a result of the virus. It’s especially tough when you take into account some of what he’s said recently about how the ordeals of the last year have changed him.
Friday’s scheduled game between the Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies was postponed in part because of the ongoing contact tracing within the Minnesota organization.
The Cleveland Browns will be without several key players for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets due to COVID-19 protocols. Starting linebacker BJ Goodson was the only Browns player to test positive, but several others are not eligible for the game after they picked the wrong time to have a soak in the hot tub.
Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported on Sunday that Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge were all deemed close contacts to Goodson because of their use of the hot tub at the Browns’ facility.
“If you’re thinking how are the wide receivers with a linebacker — ready for this? From the hot tub,” Glazer said. “There was close contact in the hot tub, and as a result those guys are out of this game.”
That meshes with what Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported late Saturday night, which is that the players were in the recovery pool area of Cleveland’s facility. That area includes the hot tub and the cold tub, and sharing it is not in itself a COVID-19 violation.
The NFL’s medical experts look at the amount of time spent in the area, distance between people, mask use and ventilation. If the threshold is exceeded in two or more of those categories after a player tests positive, those who exceeded the threshold are labeled high-risk close contacts.
Landry tweeted a very blunt reaction to the COVID news, and you can understand why he and his teammates are frustrated. The Browns can potentially clinch a playoff spot on Sunday if they win and have some other things go their way.
The Kansas City Chiefs had a span of time on Sunday where there game against the Denver Broncos was in question, but fortunately the uncertainty stemmed from a series of false positive COVID-19 tests.
Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reports that the Chiefs had seven positive COVID-19 tests on Sunday morning. They immediately began going through contact tracing protocols and had to wake several coaches and players up to have them test again. All seven came back negative the second time around.
Obviously, NFL teams are fortunate that they have the resources to quickly re-test players and staff members and get the results within hours. Otherwise, the Chiefs and NFL would have had to sort through who was available for Sunday night’s game and whether or not the game should be played.
This is not the first time this season that we have seen false positive COVID-19 tests for a team. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list earlier this year after a false positive, and his wife was not happy about it.
The NBA will be implementing some of the strictest penalties we’ve seen against teams that violate the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps reported on the memo that went out around the league regarding the protocols for the upcoming season. Most notable is the potential punishment for teams who violate the protocol, and whose violations lead to other teams being impacted or changes in the schedule. In addition to fines and suspensions, the league says that forfeiture of draft picks or even games could be on the table.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that teams are “extremely aware” of these possible punishments, and they are considered a “huge concern” to be avoided. The league has taken note of how the NFL has come down hard on protocol violations.
The NBA would have a tougher time juggling schedule adjustments, as any outbreak on a team could impact multiple games. With that in mind, it’s understandable why forfeiture would be on the table. It’s also easy to see why the NBA would come down so hard on anything that violates protocol and leads to such an outbreak.
The Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes have played annually since 1918. That could be in serious jeopardy in 2020.
According to Chris Balas of The Wolverine, the COVID-19 issues within the Michigan program are severe enough that he would “bet against” a game being played next week. The Wolverines are scheduled to face Ohio State in Columbus on Dec. 12.
Michigan added further backing to this report by announcing that it has paused football activities and canceled Saturday’s game against Maryland. The Wolverines will resume practicing no earlier than Dec. 7.
The consequences of a cancellation against Ohio State could be far-reaching. The Buckeyes would become ineligible to play in the Big Ten Championship with one more cancellation, which would limit their schedule to five games due to their own virus issues. Big Ten teams are required to play at least six games in order to be eligible for the championship game.
There are some who will think this proves this college football analyst right. However, it sounds like there are very real problems within the Michigan program right now.
The San Francisco 49ers announced on Monday that they will be playing their two remaining home games in Arizona, and that could mean players, coaches and staff members will have to spend a lot of time away from their families.
Santa Clara County, home of the 49ers and Levi’s Stadium, announced new COVID-19 protocols recently that effectively placed a three-week ban on contact sports at any level. With the NFL being no exception, the Niners will now play their Week 13 and Week 14 games at State Farm Stadium in Arizona, which is the home of the Cardinals.
In addition to banning contact sports for three weeks, health officials have also mandated a 14-day quarantine period for anyone entering Santa Clara County. As Jay Glazer of FOX Sports notes, that means Niners players and staffers may not be able to return to the San Francisco area for the remainder of the season. They play their two “home games” in Arizona the next two weeks before traveling to Dallas and then facing the Cardinals in Arizona in Week 16. The 49ers are scheduled to face the Seahawks at home in Week 17, and that game is not being moved at this point.
It’s unclear if Santa Clara County will make exceptions for players and team members to travel back to San Francisco if they’re being tested for COVID-19. Glazer is of the belief that they will remain away from the area for the next month at least.
The NFL has had its hands full in recent weeks trying to reschedule games and now change the location of some. That has led to some frustration among players, though there isn’t a whole lot league officials can do if they want to play a full season.
Graham Gano returned to action Sunday after spending over a week on the COVID/Reserve list, and it sounds like it was a pretty impressive feat to get back as quickly as he did.
Gano converted all four of his field goal attempts in Sunday’s 19-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. After the game, he went into detail about his battle with COVID-19, in which he experienced a number of symptoms.
Gano was no longer symptomatic by Sunday, and had tested negative for the virus prior to the game.
We’ve heard about some pro athletes who have gotten quite sick as a result of COVID-19. Gano is only the latest.