To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is the question. The COVID vaccine has been a staple in media headlines since its inception, and sports is no exception. The latest of which involves the Jacksonville Jaguars and their head coach Urban Meyer’s recent comments about vaccination status factoring into recent roster cuts.
To give some context, Urban Meyer is a former accomplished college football coach for Ohio State who recently transitioned into the NFL for the first time. He also had the privilege of drafting top quarterback prospect Trevor Lawrence in this year’s NFL draft. As such, the sports world has been fixated on the new head coach and his prized quarterback’s first season in the NFL. Meyer drew even more attention a result of his comments during a press conference discussing roster cuts where he was quoted as saying “"Everyone was considered," Meyer said. "That was part of the [considerations such as] production, let's start talking about this, and also is he vaccinated or not? Can I say that that was a decision-maker? It was certainly in consideration.” . This may seem like a standard vague head coach answer, but Meyer’s comments caught the attention of the media and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), who has launched an investigation.
The NFL has a policy that a team may not cut a player based on vaccination status. This issue first popped up in May when Buffalo Bills GM Brandon Beane stated he’d hypothetically cut an unvaccinated player because it would provide more freedom within team facilities and make the offseason more manageable. An anonymous source with knowledge of the league’s directive responded and told the Associated Press “A team may not release a player solely due to vaccination status.”
As a private company, the NFL would be well within its rights to mandate players and staff within the organization to get the vaccine. There has been some rumblings in the media that the NFL might try to implement a mandate for the vaccine, however they would need the NFLPA approval or risk a partial or total strike from players. However, at the moment they have not made such a mandate and instead have established a different set of rules for the unvaccinated players. Vaccinated players will be tested weekly and are not considered to be “high risk” close contacts. If they come in contact with anyone deemed high risk, they must wear a mask around team facilities and take receive a negative COVID test result for 5 days straight. If they do contract COVID they must quarantine for 10 days or show proof of 2 negative COVID tests, separated by 24 hours. On the contrary, unvaccinated players must be tested daily and test immediately if they are deemed high risk or in contact with a high risk individual. Even if that test comes back negative, they still must miss 5 days before being able to return. If they test positive, they must complete a 10 day quarantine plus another 3 days to return to play.
This disparity between regulations for vaccinated and unvaccinated players is extremely relevant for this upcoming season as any team that must cancel a game due to a COVID outbreak would forfeit that game. Meyer had informed the team about the benefits of the vaccine and encouraged players to get vaccinated but ultimately said the decision is a personal one. He did also mention that protocols for unvaccinated players would impact the team’s chances to win. Earlier today (September 1, 2021), Meyer held another press conference where he said no players were released because of vaccination status . This was an important clarification to make, but not a necessary one. The devil is in the details of the NFL’s rule as it states cutting a player on the sole reason of vaccination status is not allowed. Meyer never stated it was the only reason, just one of the factors.
From a coach and general manager’s perspective, is it really unfair to consider vaccination status when making these decisions? A potential COVID outbreak could not only impact star players availability, but this year it could directly impact their record, standings and health of other players and staff. Meyer’s comments were not in violation of the NFL’s policy and from the perspective of management, this is a responsible practice with the underlying motivation being the overall success of the team and health of its players. Meyer’s comments will grab headlines, but most likely nothing else. Don’t be surprised to see more controversy arise out of the NFL’s COVID policies, and if the mandate is established, the floodgates will open.
*Reporting on the Jacksonville Jaguars situation was first reported by Michale DiRocco at ESPN*
https://DiRocco, Michael. “NFLPA Opens Investigation after Jacksonville Jaguars' Urban Meyer SAYS Vaccination Status a Factor In Roster Cuts.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, August 31, 2021. http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/32121794/jacksonville-jaguars-urban-meyer-says-vaccination-status-factor-roster-cuts.
 Wilner, Barry. “AP Source: No Cutting Players Because They Are Unvaccinated.” AP NEWS. Associated Press, May 7, 2021. https://apnews.com/article/buffalo-bills-coronavirus-pandemic-nfl-health-sports-33fedd03a0c2551a52fa729579dbe2fe.
 Shapiro, Michael. “Report: NFL Adds WEEKLY Testing To Covid-19 Protocols.” Sports Illustrated. Sports Illustrated, August 30, 2021. https://www.si.com/nfl/2021/08/30/nfl-updates-covid-19-protocols-weekly-testing-vaccinated-players.
 DiRocco, Michael. “Jacksonville Jaguars Say No Players Were Released Due To COVID-19 Vaccination Status.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, September 1, 2021. https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/32126156/jacksonville-jaguars-say-no-players-were-released-due-vaccination-status.