The NFL just took the strongest pro-vaccination stance in American pro sports

In a step signifying the NFL’s insistence on curbing COVID-19 exposure, the league office issued a memo to franchises Tuesday stating that it will limit the access of some team personnel who don’t submit to a vaccination.

It’s the strongest stance of an American pro sports league to date, bluntly delivering the news with a clear mandate from the league office: If top tier personnel want to maintain close contact with players or work in certain areas of the facility, a vaccination will be required.

From the memo, which was provided to Yahoo Sports by a league source:

“Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees (other than players) should be expected to be vaccinated unless they have a bona fide medical or religious ground for not doing so. Any staffer that refuses to be vaccinated without a religious or medical reason will not be eligible for Tier 1 or Tier 2 status and therefore will not be permitted access to the “football only” restricted area and may not work directly or in close proximity with players. Furthermore, as noted below [in the memo], we anticipate relaxing various aspects of the Protocols (such as close contact quarantine, restrictions regarding locker room, meetings and cafeteria use and the testing cadence) for vaccinated individuals.”

That’s a notable disparity requiring high-level team personnel to get vaccinated but not all players. As it stands, mandatory player vaccinations would fall under collective bargaining, with players having their working conditions negotiated by their union. This is why the NFL is within its boundaries to mandate that non-unionized team personnel get vaccinated (or face changes in their working limitations). Effectively, the NFL’s league office can take added steps to protect players from team employees who are not vaccinated, while players being protected from other unvaccinated players is essentially a matter for the union to agree upon.

Within the memo, the league office also stated that all teams are “expected” to use stadiums or training facilities as mass vaccinations sites for their team personnel — as well as players and family members who wish to take part. The league office also has requested an update on the status of the vaccination efforts by April 19, when voluntary offseason activities are slated to begin for franchises.

Among the other efforts the NFL is mandating from teams:

  • Arrange vaccination education to be available to players, personnel and their families — with league medical officials available to provide information and answer questions.

  • Notify team personnel of the relaxed protocols that will be in place for those who do take part in vaccinations, which will impact multiple layers of security already in place — from daily testing, tracking devices, close-contact standards, quarantine regulations and some travel-related changes.

  • Give weekly status reports to the league office, which will then be used to modify the collectively bargained workplace behavior and expectations of players — if vaccination levels reach certain thresholds.

The NFLPA didn’t respond to a question on Tuesday about the league’s memo. However, the union put out a statement on behalf of Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos players who voted to not take part in the team’s voluntary portion of offseason activities.

Players across the league are expected to notify their franchises by April 19 if they do not wish to participate in the voluntary portion of the offseason.

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