Vaccines were supposed to usher NFL back to normalcy. Instead, they’re inviting frustration.

The NFL's first training camps begin in less than six weeks and COVID-19 remains the ominous cloud that the league cannot escape. The ongoing concerns are no longer about understanding the coronavirus or creating far-reaching protocols to combat it. Now the ongoing excitement surrounds a simple question and the litany of ramifications associated with the answer.
Who can be vaccinated?
This is what decision-makers in NFL teams want to know. And behind them are the league office and players' union, as well as a number of medical advisors who almost ask the players to listen to a unified message. The mantra: Your best protection against COVID comes in the form of a vaccine.
Whether this motivates the players (or apparently some assistant coaches) to get the shot is debatable. It forces the league and union medical officials to try to educate and hope that people will listen.
"I say what our players say, they are grown men," said Thom Mayer, chief medical officer for the NFL Players Association. "You give them the adult facts and they will make an adult decision."
"We encouraged the players to get vaccinated from day 1," added union manager DeMaurice Smith. “It's not really a question of how I feel. The point is to make sure that the players have access to all information. Your ability to reach me and call me - I will let you know that I will send you to Thom Mayer, our medical advisor or one of our other specialists as soon as I call. But we asked the players to get the vaccine. We asked them to make sure they are only making an informed decision. "
Washington head coach Ron Rivera invited medical experts to speak to his players about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines. (Photo by Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)
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That's basically where the league is currently at vaccinating players. It provides information and hopes for the best. And it comes from every corner. The league has offered medical advice on the matter. The teams bring in specialists to speak to players and staff. The NFLPA urges players who want the best information about vaccines to pick up the phone and give them a call. All in an effort to increase vaccination rates, which seem to have been slower than some in the league expected. How much slower? Nobody is specific as neither the NFL nor the union will provide specific data on vaccination levels as the league's month-long hiatus approaches next week.
Instead of hard numbers, most of the teams have given vague updates on their prospects. The Green Bay Packers staff, for example, are almost completely vaccinated - but the players are not. The Chicago Bears are in the same boat. The Detroit Lions coaching staff has been fully vaccinated but declined to provide an update on the status of the players. The Washington Football team approached a 50 percent vaccination rate among players this week. This is a similar story for most teams. It was up to them to highlight progress (which usually affects coaches or staff) but vague details about the fights (which usually involve players).
However, the San Francisco 49ers provided a very illuminating picture of their own COVID vaccination efforts, saying that as of this week, 53 of their 91-person squad are fully vaccinated and another five players are waiting for their second dose of the vaccine. And the other 33 players? Head coach Kyle Shanahan said the goal is to get 20 more players on board over the next 40 days. That would wipe out the 85 percent vaccination rate the teams are targeting in hopes of loosening their COVID protocols at the start of training camp.
Currently, NFL franchise owners have agreed to relax protocols for teams reaching a vaccination standard. The fine details of this commitment and how it will affect training camps are not yet clear. And that's a commitment teams want - at least in part because it can be used as a clear motivational point for everyone in the franchise.
One NFC head coach was clear on this point and said, “There was no explanation of the difference in the camp when you hit a certain threshold. I want that to happen. "
This could be a development that would help teams make a definitive push for their 85 percent vaccination brand in the next six weeks, especially when vaccines have been available to most players for nearly two months but many have refused to to commit to one. These remaining holdouts draw the teams' most intense efforts. And on the way to the league break, things are getting better in some franchises.
As a general manager told Yahoo Sports, “I've seen people [the media] say they want more information about vaccines - which I think is a fair approach. But in terms of our staff working to educate [players] as opposed to those who come to us for information, we have had more players asking questions about [pain relievers] than Toradol over the past week about vaccines. I think some people honestly don't want to get into this. So we're working on solving how to get them what they need and what to do when we can't get that 85 percent. For some of us this will be a project until the training camp. "
When asked if that was frustrating, the GM replied, “Very. But that's life last year. "
Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians appeared to be feeling similar on Thursday when he discovered the team is running its own vaccination campaign for players and their families.
"There's going to be a long line over there right now," Arian told reporters. “We have been pretty small so far. Hopefully we have a pretty good line. "
Arian said he told the players, "If you want to get back to normal, get the vaccine," but apparently didn't say he should bring a specialist to speak to the team as Washington did with manager Ron Rivera this week would have.
"I'm the specialist," said Arians.
Of course, this all turns out to be predictable given the functionality of the league. Front offices and coaching teams want their teams to work with the greatest possible capacity for work and development. And they see the clearest way to do that in a line of vaccines that promise not only to reduce infection rates, but also the ongoing toll the virus can take on a player's health within one season.
Conversely, players often measure conservatively when it comes to their health and whether teams are always doing their best. And the COVID vaccines are likely to generate even more thought and caution as they were due to the emergency clearing that allowed them to bypass the FDA's typical lengthy study and approval process.
So you get players like Washington's defensive end, Montez Sweat, and Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold, to tell reporters they are suspicious of the vaccine and may ultimately choose to forego it entirely.
"I'm not a fan of this," said Sweat this week. “I probably won't get vaccinated until I have more facts and such. I'm not a fan of it at all. ... I haven't been infected with COVID yet, so I don't see myself being treated until I actually get COVID. "
Darnold stated his intentions more clearly, but also said that he had not committed himself to be vaccinated.
"I still have to think about all the specific things that are in there," he said. “Here, too, it is up to you whether you want to be vaccinated or not. Well, that's really all I have to do with it. I don't want to go into too much detail. "
It remains to be seen whether Darnold, Sweat or a large swath of other holdouts will get the information they are looking for by the beginning of the training camp. But it is clear that the league, unions and individual franchises will continue to push their efforts.
As the union's top doctor put it, everyone is trying to get adult men to make adult decisions, all in hopes of putting COVID-19 in the rearview mirror as much as possible.
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