Now that all NFL players are on the cusp of returning to training camps, the news cycle has not only focused on our return in preparation for the upcoming season, but also on how we are going to manage playing through another season with COVID-19 as the backdrop. Last week, both Dr. Anthony Fauci and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy discussed how misinformation has only led to more problems with our fight against COVID-19. It’s a shame that just four days later the NFL decided to actively muddy the waters in regard to our fight against the virus. I wanted to take the time to clear up the mess the NFL chose to create.

Let’s start with a quick history lesson. Last year, the COVID Amendments, which were overwhelmingly passed by our Board, included protections for players across the board, and they are the same framework we are going to play under this year. To simplify this for everyone, the protocols that were implemented last year are nearly identical. The fines are the same. The mask wearing, physical distancing, testing and contact tracing are the same. Yes, there are changes to how vaccinated players can move about the building and do their jobs, but that is based on data and science.

Last year, it was our player leadership that insisted on daily testing. It was our player leadership that insisted on the NFL forcing clubs to upgrade facilities, use sophisticated contact tracing and create a workplace that was as safe as possible for us. These protocols were not imposed by the NFL; they were imposed by our union leaders. We relied on the advice of leading experts and advocated for their recommendations to become realities.

The NFL’s memo last week was a transparent attempt to pressure players to get vaccinated; and to do that, they sacrificed clarity and created confusion for players, coaches, media and fans, which I will clear up here.

*Is the vaccine mandatory for NFL players?

No. Though we believe the vaccine is both safe and effective, players have the choice whether to take it or not. Unlike among the NFL coaching ranks or in other businesses, the vaccine is not mandated for NFL players.

*Is it possible for games to be postponed this year?

Yes. The NFL made clear it does not intend to add another week to the schedule. That should not be a problem, as we were able to play every game last year within our normal season calendar. The threat of missed game checks is matched by the threat of lost revenue to NFL owners, so we all have a vested interest in playing another complete season.

*What will happen when a team reaches 85% vaccinated? Will the protocols be lifted for all players?

No. This was never the case and is currently not even being discussed.

*What about the wristbands that the NFL wants unvaccinated players to wear?

We did not agree to them and think they are unnecessary.

*Why are unvaccinated players being threatened with new rules, restrictions and punishments?

These are not “new” rules; and last year, there were multiple media reports about protocol violations that led to fines. Last year, no one was vaccinated; but by following the protocols, we got through a full season, and nothing has changed for those who are unvaccinated. Players and staff must follow all the same protocols as we did the previous season. The COVID Amendments we signed last year were set to span two seasons, so those rules still govern us this year.

*It seems like the league thinks only unvaccinated players can catch COVID. Is that true?

No, it’s not. As we’ve seen in the NBA, MLB, College World Series and Olympics, there will be instances where vaccinated individuals test positive. To create a narrative that we will only be dealing with positive cases from unvaccinated players is inaccurate and disingenuous.

*What about breakthrough cases of COVID?

Breakthrough cases should concern all of us. The science is not clear on whether vaccinated individuals can transmit COVID to others. That’s why we believe that we need to be testing our vaccinated players more often than our current rate until we know for sure. That data will be critical for our success this season and would be a game changer for our country and the rest of the world.

The scary part for our business is not the fear that the protocols or the vaccines don’t work now; it’s that we have cases rising in many cities and communities as a result of variants, which may force us to adjust. As I messaged to everyone at this time last year, it is important to be vigilant, but the panic and frenzy the NFL created was not helpful. We know we can work together to do this and play a great NFL season as we showed last year. That comes with a commitment to collaboration and communication, which did not happen last week.

BOTTOM LINE

The message that needs to be conveyed to the entire football community is very simple: We are still in a pandemic, and we do need to work together to make it through another complete season. Given the rise in cases and the emerging data on how the vaccines hold up to the virus’s variants, we should expect the unexpected.

The NFL wants every game to be played. The players want every game to be played. The fans and media want every game to be played. It will take all of us to accomplish our goal of playing a full season and crowning a Super Bowl champion. We have the same goal. Every stunt like that memo only makes our success less likely. We need each other to accomplish it. The NFL has to be better, and we need to stick together as players and as a union to make this work again.

- JC Tretter
NFLPA President