As NFL teams have moved into a phase of their offseason programs allowing them to greatly expand in-person meetings and training sessions, the league is not requiring that players and coaches be vaccinated. However, as of Monday unvaccinated coaches and team staff members lost the ability to interact with players in person, after the league loosened a host of restrictions last month on vaccinated players. As of that change, those players were required to be tested no more than once a week, did not have to wear masks at team facilities, were not subject to quarantine as part of any contact tracing, could eat in team cafeterias and could use saunas and steam rooms.
By contrast, unvaccinated players such as Darnold still must be tested daily, must wear masks at team facilities, are still subject to possible quarantining and travel restrictions, cannot eat in team cafeterias and cannot use saunas and steam rooms.
Darnold, 24, said Wednesday that he is doing some research into the issue of vaccinations, and that his personal situation is shaping his current approach.
“I’m staying by myself right now. I don’t have a family or anything like that,” said the fourth-year quarterback, who was traded in April from the New York Jets. “There’s a ton of different things that go into it. I’m going to evaluate that on my own and make the best decision that I feel is the best for myself.”
A Panthers spokesman declined Wednesday to share the percentage of Carolina players who have been vaccinated, per the Charlotte Observer.
Panthers Coach Matt Rhule declared in May that he and his entire coaching staff had been vaccinated. “We did it for family reasons,” Rhule said then, “and we also wanted to keep our players safe.”
Elsewhere in the NFC, less than half of the Washington Football Team’s players have been vaccinated, head coach Ron Rivera revealed Wednesday. In an effort to increase that number, the team held a video conference with an immunology expert so that she could answer questions from players and potentially dispel any misapprehensions.
“We’re trying to gather as much information, allow the players to get as much information so they can make a choice and make a decision,” Rivera said. He added that “there’s a lot of messaging that [players] get off of Twitter, and some of it’s good, some of it’s bad.”
At least one Washington player appeared to remain unconvinced.
“I probably won’t get vaccinated until I get more facts and that stuff,” defensive end Montez Sweat asserted. “I’m not a fan of it at all. … I don’t see me treating covid until I actually get covid.”
Darnold’s former AFC East rival, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, has declined to address in recent weeks whether he has received a vaccine or plans to do so. He said he did not receive a dose in April, adding, “I think everybody should have a choice to do it and not to do it.”
“You get in this tricky situation now where if you do mandate that, that’s kind of going against what our Constitution says, and the freedom to kind of express yourself one way or the other,” Allen added.
Bills Coach Sean McDermott acknowledged in late May that he was growing “concerned” that not enough of his players were getting vaccinated in time to have team-wide restrictions eased by the start of training camp in July. There was a “two-pronged” set of considerations for players, McDermott said, involving personal calculations of health and safety as well as “what you’ve got to do to do your job.”
Allen told reporters at that time that the subject of vaccination would continue to be “a hot topic” among the Bills “throughout the remainder of the season.”
One NFL quarterback who has confirmed he was vaccinated is the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, the league’s 2018 MVP. The Super Bowl-winning signal-caller said in April that his decision had less to do with his job and more to do with the fact that his fiancee had just given birth.
“To me it was more of a personal decision, with having a baby girl and knowing that I was going to be around people,” Mahomes said. “I wanted to make sure I could do whatever I could to help keep her healthy.”
On Wednesday, Panthers place kicker Joey Slye placed his decision to get vaccinated in a personal context. He said he and his family consulted with the medical team that had cared for his older brother who died of leukemia in 2014, shortly before Slye began playing at Virginia Tech.
Slye said that he had doubts about the vaccines, but doctors from St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis told him they were “something that’s okay,” at which point he decided that it was “kind of a no-brainer for me to go ahead and get it.”
“At the same time,” he added, “I don’t want people to get it without letting them make their own decisions for themselves.”