The NFL on Thursday warned teams they could face serious penalties this season for COVID-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated players.
In a memo obtained by NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the league states "if a game cannot be rescheduled during the 18-week schedule due to a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players, the team with the outbreak will forfeit and be credited with a loss," writes NFL.com. The other team will be credited with a win. Pelissero wrote that the new policy has "massive implications."
The team responsible for the canceled game "will be responsible for financial losses and subject to potential discipline from the commissioner," per Pelissero. "We do not anticipate adding a '19th week' to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season," the memo states.
Furthermore, if a game canceled due to COVID-19 cannot be rescheduled, neither team's players will get paid. However, "if a club cannot play due to a COVID spike in vaccinated individuals," the NFL will "attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams," per the memo.
To some, the new guidance is effectively a vaccine mandate, even though the league hasn't technically mandated anything — they've just placed the burden of COVID outbreaks among unvaccinated players on individual teams. Players and pundits discussed the implications of the reported news on Twitter:
As of Thursday, "more than 75 percent of NFL players were at least partially vaccinated and more than half of the league's teams have player vaccination rates above 80 percent," reports ESPN.