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Armando Salguero: NFL Still Segregating The Unvaccinated In Adjusted COVID Protocols

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The NFL adjusted its COVID-19 protocols for the regular season on Monday, and although it tightened the testing gap between vaccinated and unvaccinated players, the league continues to treat those who have declined the shots as second-class citizens.

The news, first broken by the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, changes the testing cadence for vaccinated players from once every 14 days to once every seven days.

The NFL said on a conference call last week it had suggested that change to the NFL Players Association. On Monday evening, the union sent an email to all its players informing them it had agreed to the uptick in testing.

But the union believes in a more equitable testing cadence for all players — wanting both vaccinated and unvaccinated players to be tested every day.

“The Delta variant poses a substantial and serious public health problem to which no personnel working in the NFL environment are immune,” the NFLPA letter reads. “That includes individuals who are vaccinated, unvaccinated, and even those with previous Covid infections.”

The NFLPA position is that the league’s new testing protocols for vaccinated players “does not sufficiently solve the real risk of virus transmission going undetected inside a club facility,” but since once-a-week testing is better than every 14 days, it agreed to the NFL’s proposal.

So why doesn’t the NFL simply treat everyone the same and test everyone the same like it did last year?

The league hasn’t answered that question, but this is clear:

The NFL is transparently on a mission to make every player get vaccinated, if possible. And erasing the testing gap between vaccinated and unvaccinated players might actually convince holdout unvaccinated players not to get jabbed because they would then be no more inconvenienced than vaccinated teammates.

So the NFL keeps segregating the vaccinated players from the unvaccinated players in its updated protocols.

The protocol changes mean vaccinated players must test more often than before but still not as often as unvaccinated ones, who still must be tested every day before they’re allowed to enter team facilities around the league.

Unvaccinated players who miss even one test must then undergo “re-entry” testing, meaning they must test negative for five consecutive days before re-entering the club’s facility.

Vaccinated players are not subject to this “re-entry” regimen.

The NFL is drawing other dark lines between vaccinated and unvaccinated players that belie its own testing results. The fact is the NFL says it conducted 7,190 COVID tests between Aug. 1 and Aug. 21.

The league had an incidence rate of .95 percent overall.

The league added that the incidence rate among vaccinated players was .03 percent while the incidence rate among unvaccinated players was 2.2 percent.

That incidence rate of the vaxxed and unvaxxed is negligible compared to the 13.8 positivity rate in the US for the week ending Aug. 23.

Yet the NFL, in its ongoing effort to motivate every player to be vaccinated, continues to make getting an NFL roster spot harder to get for the unvaccinated.

That’s because the updated COVID testing cadence for the 2021 regular season continues to make it very difficult to fill a roster spot with an unvaccinated player.

Consider:

Vaccinated tryout or street free agents, players acquired from other clubs via trade or waivers, and those poached off a practice squad need only test negative once, on the day of their arrival, before being allowed into a club’s facility.

Unvaccinated free agents and alike must undergo five days of tests, all of which must be negative, before being allowed in a team’s facility.

“It’s logical that if I have an open roster spot I need to fill in a hurry, I’m going to look at vaccinated players if I want them to practice a couple of days with the team before the next game,” one NFL personnel man told OutKick.

“Most of the time we’re not in that situation, thank God, because we have some depth and if you’re counting on a street free agent five days after he joined your team, you’re in trouble anyway. But my greater point is if I need a body quick, like it or not, the protocols are pointing me to a vaccinated player almost every time.”

And where does actual talent fit in this equation?

“It still matters,” the personnel executive said. “But now vaccination status is a consideration, too.”

Is that fair to the unvaccinated?

Of course not. But the NFL doesn’t care about fairness to the unvaccinated. Last week, the NFL openly said it would impose a vaccine passport mandate if the union would agree to it.

The union has not agreed so far and instead vows to continue pushing for testing everyone equally.

“We will continue,” the union said in its letter to players, “to negotiate for a testing cadence that maximizes protections for players and ensures that games will be played this season.”

Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

2 Comments

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  1. How about no one gets tested regularly? Insane that people with no symptoms would ever be regularly tested. The small percentage of unvaccinated players should be subject to longer quarantine periods if they become infected. This continues to be a dog and pony show. Hopefully doesn’t turn into a shit show during the season.

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