Sports | July 19, 2021 11:38 am

NFL Will Identify Vaccinated Players at Games and Practices

The league is working with the NFLPA on a way to differentiate vaccinated from non-vaccinated players

Cleveland Browns wide receivers run a drill during minicamp in June.
Cleveland Browns wide receivers run a drill during minicamp in June.
Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty

With the NFL adamant that it will not be canceling or postponing any games during the upcoming season due to COVID-19, the league is encouraging its players to get vaccinated by greatly loosening restrictions for players who receive the jab before the games begin in September.

In conjunction with that policy, the NFL and NFLPA are working on a way to differentiate vaccinated from non-vaccinated players during practices and games, perhaps visually, because it is a “core concern,” according to a ProFootballTalk source.

Vaccinated players are currently identified by a device like a wristband or a credential within team facilities. Now, possibly in order for officials to tell the difference, an easy-to-identify visual marker may be implemented, which would also allow fans to see who is vaccinated and who is not.

“Various players have declined to reveal whether they’ve been vaccinated against COVID,” per PFT. “Ultimately, it could be impossible for them to conceal that fact. Regardless of who has or hasn’t or will or won’t be vaccinated, the question becomes irrelevant once the league and union finalize a method for quickly and easily distinguishing the vaccinated from the non-vaccinated.”

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, non-vaccinated players are a larger minority within the NFL than they are in the overall American population. While only 56% of American adults have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot, about 73% of NFL players have been vaccinated, a person familiar with the vaccination rates told The Associated Press. (Two teams — Washington and Indianapolis — remain under 50% vaccinated less than two weeks from training camp.)

Restrictions for non-vaccinated players include daily testing (even during byes), masks, limits on in-person meetings, being barred from eating in the cafeteria and other annoyances. Also, the risk of getting sick and missing games could hurt their chances of making a roster over a fully vaccinated player.

Teams that reach an 85% vaccine threshold are allowed to ease COVID-19 restrictions during training camp despite having a small percentage of non-vaccinated players. At least 13 teams have reached that threshold, but the Dallas Cowboys, who will be on HBO’s Hard Knocks this year, are not one of them. Ex-Cowboy Michael Irvin is not pleased with that fact.

“If you’re not one of them teams [at the threshold], are you really thinking about winning a championship? You see what I’m saying,” he said. “OK, so now if you’re not getting vaccinated and you got all these other teams that are getting vaccinated … Somebody in that damn locker room [should say], ‘Hey man, we’re going to have a chance, are you vaccinated?’ Let’s go through this because this could be a two-week healthy dude missing games, and in this league, this ain’t the NBA. In this league that could be it for you. The right person misses two weeks, that’s it. Your ass is out.”

Training camp opens on July 27 for the majority of teams, but the Cowboys open this week.