The NFL has sent a strong message this week stressing incentives for players to get a COVID-19 vaccination, and the Chiefs are among those listening.
The Chiefs are one of a handful of NFL teams in which 90% of the players are vaccinated, coach Andy Reid said at the onset of training camp Friday. In addition, the entire coaching staff is fully vaccinated, Reid added.
“We’re one of the teams where players have really challenged themselves to get things done and take care of business,” he said, later adding, “I think it’s guys talking to each other; I think it’s trusting your medical staff, which ends up being important.”
In a new policy made public Thursday, the NFL made its message clear: The decision to not get a vaccination will not only put your health at risk but also your paycheck and your team’s location in the playoff race.
If a game is canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players, the responsible team will be forced to forfeit, the NFL stated in a memo to its 32 teams.
And in such an event, players on both teams would forfeit their game checks.
The NFL is not outright requiring players to get vaccinated, but it’s sure as heck creating motivation for it. Or, rather, disadvantaging those who chose not to get the shots.
“These operating principles are designed to allow us to play a full season in a safe and responsible way,” read the memo, first reported by the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. The memo later adds, “We know that vaccines are safe and effective and are the best step anyone can take to be safe from coronavirus.”
The NFL didn’t have to cancel any games last season, but it shifted several games, requiring a puppet master dance to make it all fit into the scheduled 17 weeks. The Chiefs and Bills pushed a game from Thursday to Monday. The Chiefs and Patriots also delayed a game to Monday. Both instances were because of COVID.
This season, the NFL is insistent on playing its new 17-game schedule over the course of 18 weeks and seems less eager to maneuver its week-to-week slate. In the memo, the league cites its own constitution and bylaws in stating every team is required to be ready to play its schedule. “A failure to do so is deemed conduct detrimental. There is no right to postpone a game,” the memo said.
The announcement was met with pushback from players who took to social media, most notably Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who said the policy is “making me question my future in the NFL.” He since deleted the tweet. Patriots linebacker Matt Judon was more expressive, tweeting, “The NFLPA (expletive) sucks.”
Pairing with the vaccine’s arrival in 2021, the NFL previously loosened other protocols for only players who are vaccinated. They will no longer require daily testing for vaccinated players. Unvaccinated players, on the other hand, will not only be tested daily but will have to wear masks and socially distance inside the facilities, among other measures.
“The league has their policy if you don’t have it, and they’ve got a policy if you have had it. Obviously, if you’ve had it, it’s a little bit easier road,” Reid said. “The other one is very similar to last year if you haven’t had it. That wasn’t the easiest thing to get through for everybody.”
On a teleconference call Friday, NFL chief medical officer Allen Stills said 80% of players had at least one dose of the vaccine, per ESPN. Six teams have reached 90%.
Earlier this summer, as players felt the initial impact of the restrictions during mandatory mini camp, Chiefs players vocalized the desire for the entire team to receive the shot.
Tight end Travis Kelce then broadened the scope of the push.
To family and friends.
He’s joined Walgreens for a campaign calling for everyone eligible to receive the vaccine to do just that. Initially hesitant to get the shot, Kelce said conversations with family persuaded him.
“I had some things kind of pointing me in that direction — it made it easier to see family, everybody,” he told The Star. “I love being around family, (so) it was just kind of a family decision that if everybody got the vaccine, we would be able to be around each other safe and comfortably. So that was the biggest thing — it was huge for family.
“I was definitely hesitant, but it’s only here to help us, and I’m here to just spread the word to try and encourage everybody to get it.”