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What are the vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions for the 2021 NFL season?

With the regular season about to kick off, NFL announced safety requirements, as well as team vaccination incentives seen by reluctant players as "equal to mandate".

Indianapolis Colts running back Deon Jackson (35) runs the ball while Carolina Panthers defensive back Jalen Julius (35) defends  in the second half at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Trevor RuszkowskiUSA TODAY Sports

Last NFL regular season saw some of it’s games rescheduled due to several problems caused by global pandemic, however, none of those games were canceled.

This year, fans are seeing the loosening of some restrictions such as stadium capacity but NFL is tightening safety requirements for the players, who have their backs against the wall when talking about COVID-19 vaccination.

Vaccination increase cause tensions among players

This year, the league has increased retaliation for those players who feel hesitant about the vaccine, incentives that make those players that don’t want to get the shot, feel as "equal to mandatory."

This not only has increased the percentage of vaccinated players but also have caused tensions to arise among the NFL teams, with several players standing out against vaccination.

“Some people may think that I’m being selfish in making this a ‘me’ thing.” Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley said. “It is all about the young players who don’t have a voice and are reaching out to me every day because they’re being told if they don’t get vaxxed, they’ll be cut. … Every doctor I’ve gone to with questions begins every sentence with, ‘From what we know now,’ which tells me we don’t know enough.”

Nevertheless, others have agreed that the best way to tackle this is just to get the shot even if they are reluctant about vaccination. 

The new NFL policy announced Thursday says that if a team is dealing with a breakout derived from unvaccinated players, and the game cannot be rescheduled in the following 18 weeks, the team will forfeit the game causing both teams- including the one that is not causing the outbreak- to lose game checks. However, the victory, which will still count for playoffs, will go for the opposing team.

Incentives also include more team facilities for those teams which reach more than 85% percent vaccination.

Stadium Capacity restrictions

The NFL confirmed 30 out of the 32 teams have been permitted to open at 100% of their capacity starting this season. The two exceptions are the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts, which NFL said “have a clear path” to become full-capacity at some point during the season.

Despite organizers’ ease of full capacity, teams are still dependent on their locations’ COVID regulation.

Do fans require masks, tests or vaccination?

The NFL says it's not considering a league-wide policy on vaccination, allowing teams to coordinate with local officials and health experts as well as follow federal guidelines.

"We are planning on full stadiums across the league this year but will remain flexible and adaptable as necessary," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "Like last season, there may be different fan experiences, depending on the current situation in the local markets working in conjunction with public health authorities."

Some teams have already made public their policies to approach a full capacity stadium, such as New Orleans Saints who requires a negative test 72 h prior the start of the game, and mandatory masks for everyone over 5 years old inside the stadium.

Raiders have recently confirmed fans the need of vaccination to attend their games.


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