Why do NFL players stay in hotels at home games? Do they share hotel rooms?

NFL teams sleeping in hotels is not news to most people, but the fact that they stay in hotels for home games may be. Here’s a look at why and how it works.

Why do NFL players stay in hotels at home games? Do they share hotel rooms?
Rick Scuteri AP

Before hitting the headlines for his vaccine status and subsequent positive covid test, Aaron Rodgers made the news only a few short weeks ago for his complaints about having back pain. While he found himself out of step with the public in general and the NFL specifically with his percieved “anti-vax” views, which he later backtracked on, he certainly had a very valid point on the back pain issue. It seems a lifetime ago, but if we think back to his complaint, it centered on a team rule that Green Bay has in place, an “antiquated procedural thing in our league” according to Rodgers, of requiring the team to sleep in a hotel the night before home games.

The origins of the idea

Historically, coaches were concerned that young players would hit the town instead of getting a good night’s sleep. It is no good having a fantastic offensive line if they are hung over on Sunday morning. In the early days of the league, things were run with a much more firm grip by the owners on their squads. Almost military in nature, a football team would have had much more control over their private lives exercised. This would mean that players could be fined or even fired for things like drinking, smoking, carousing the town and of course having a weakness for the ladies. Even for the players who were married, expending energy in the bedroom with a partner would be seen as a dereliction of duty on the field.

Many of these sentiments extend into the modern era. No matter that they have been scientifically debunked, anyone who has played any sport, be that football, baseball, basketball, boxing, whatever, will have been told all their lives that “Women weaken legs.”

In recent decades, of course, players are not seen so much as belonging to a team as being contracted by them. They have far more autonomy and respect than their predecessors did. But many of these antiquated rules have been kept on by many teams as a form of team-building measure. And it is true to some extent that being together outside of “office hours” helps unit cohesion. Anyone that you share a roof with, becomes family in a sense that is much more real than symbolic. Breaking bread is a sacred act and to do so together binds us closer to our comrades. Teams have long used these moments to discuss tactics in a less formal setting in an effort to bring the disparate players into a whole.

Teams commonly spend time together at all levels of sport

The pandemic twist

During the pandemic of the 2020 season, the NFL elevated this selective tradition to an actual league mandate. The rule reads: “The Home Team will be required to stay at the team hotel the night prior to each game. All hotels must comply with the requirements set forth in the Team Travel Protocol and must provide parking for all players and essential staff segregated from the public.” The new diktat was seen in the light of maintaining a fully isolated league that could continue to field teams without undue exposure to the covid-19 virus. No longer could smaller market teams, or teams that had not seen the sense in wasting money in this way, choose to have their players sleep in their own beds the night before a game. And this is where Aaron Rodgers comes in to the fray. He blamed his chronic back pain on having to sleep in an unfamiliar bed on what is arguably the most important night’s sleep of the week, and he is 100% correct. Leaving aside arguments about drinking and carousing, there are far more sensible ways to maintain a covid protected environment. One would be mandatory vaccination, not only for the players but also their immediate families. Another would make it a breach of contract to be in close proximity to people outside of your close social bubble. There were many routes the league could have taken, but hotel stays were the one they landed on.

They can’t all stay in the penthouse suite

The marquee players will get their own rooms, and some of them might even get something really plush. But for rookies and lesser known players, they will have to bunk up with a teammate. Imagine your own work colleagues. How many of them would you like to share a Holiday Inn double room with? Former NFL defensive end Stephen White wrote for Bleacher Report a few years ago, “Some guys snore, others stay up all night on the phone, and still some have poor hygiene. Any of those situations, or many others not listed, could contribute to you not having a good night’s sleep — something that is usually vital to performing well the next day.”