George Atallah, the NFLPA’s assistant executive director of external affairs, said Thursday night: “The union and player leadership did not believe mandating vaccines for players was the best approach as JC [Tretter, the union’s president] has pointed out repeatedly. We know vaccines are effective, but we also know our strict protocols — when followed — are effective as we proved last year.”
Tretter, a center for the Cleveland Browns, previously told a Cleveland radio station that “there was never really any talk” between the NFL and NFLPA about a vaccine mandate for players.
“We saw that same quote,” Ferazani said Thursday. “I honestly don’t understand where that came from. We’ve been discussing with the players association mandatory vaccination from the start. In fact, as you’ll recall, we took the lead and required staff and coaches to be vaccinated in order to have access to our players. And so beginning at that point, we began banging the drum for what their experts also concede is the single greatest way that we can protect players and staff, which is get to 100 percent vaccination level. So that was our request from then.”
Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said Thursday that nearly 93 percent of players are vaccinated. More than 99 percent of team staffers are vaccinated, according to Sills. The NFL required vaccinations for teams’ coaches and staffers to be eligible to work in proximity to players.
“It’s the NFL’s choice on the mandate,” Tretter told ESPN Radio, according to an account by Pro Football Talk. “They didn’t enforce one. There was never really any talk about having a mandate. They moved forward with mandating it for their staff and employees, and they never mandated it for the players. Every player had a choice on what they wanted to do, whether they wanted to have last year’s protocols being unvaccinated or move to more lax protocols with the vaccine.”
While the NFL has fared far better than the country as a whole on vaccinations, some players have continued to express their wariness.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley, who has been particularly vocal, is in quarantine as a high-risk close contact to a team staffer who tested positive. He responded on Twitter earlier Thursday to fellow Bills wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who posted his letter from the league informing him that he had been fined for violating mask-wearing protocols.
“Don’t worry they got me too,” Beasley wrote on Twitter. “But I was wearing a mask when I was in close contact with fully vaxxed trainer who tested positive and still got sent home. So what’s the point of the mask anyways? Meanwhile I’m here still testing negative and can’t come back. Make it make sense.”
The NFL and NFLPA continue to deliberate over their coronavirus protocols for the upcoming regular season. Ferazani said the league has proposed that vaccinated players and team staffers be tested once every seven days. The NFLPA has recommended a return to daily testing of vaccinated players and staffers, citing concerns about the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant.
Under the protocols now in effect for training camp and the preseason, vaccinated players and staffers are tested once every 14 days while unvaccinated players and staffers remain subject to the same daily testing that was in effect last season.
“We continue to have ongoing discussions with the NFLPA and their medical advisers,” Sills said. “And we’re all looking at the same data and trying to determine what we think are the most effective mitigation strategies. Again, this data changes weekly, and we have to make sure we’re responding to what we’re seeing and what we’re learning, just like we did last year.”
According to Sills, the NFL had 68 positive test results in testing of players and staffers across the league between Aug. 1 and Aug. 21. Among players only, unvaccinated individuals were seven times more likely to test positive, Sills said.
Sills added that there have been clusters of cases on teams but no outbreaks with evidence of ongoing transmission within a team on a widespread basis. The Tennessee Titans placed three players, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill, on their covid-19 reserve list Thursday and have placed seven players on that list, in all. Coach Mike Vrabel announced Sunday that he had tested positive for the virus.
“The delta variant has caused some clusters of cases in teams, meaning more than one positive,” Sills said. “But that has not turned into an outbreak. And I use those terms not interchangeably. To me, they mean very different things. … We have not seen any outbreaks to date, and obviously that’s our goal.”