NFL to restrict access of team employees who refuse COVID-19 vaccine without ‘bona fide’ reason

A game official near the NFL logo during the NFL football game between the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills at State Farm Stadium on December 07, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)

The NFL is requiring certain team employees to have a "bona fide" reason to forego the COVID-19 vaccine or get barred from restricted areas.

Top league officials, including Commissioner Roger Goodell, sent a memo to teams outlining new COVID-19 safety protocols on Tuesday.

The memo stated to teams that their Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees, with the exception of players, "should be expected to be vaccinated unless they have a bona fide medical or religious ground for not doing so." The memo further stated that those who refuse the vaccine will not be allowed in "football only" areas and will be unable to work directly with or near players.

The league also plans to relax some restrictions for those who are vaccinated. Those measures include close contact quarantine, restrictions regarding locker room, meetings and cafeteria use and testing cadence.

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While the league encourages teams to promote vaccinations, it hasn’t required that players get the vaccine.

"The overwhelming consensus among medical and public health experts is that the most effective way for someone to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19 — and the risk of infecting others — is to be vaccinated," the league stated. "Our medical team has worked closely with the NFLPA medical advisors to develop comprehensive education material that reinforces this conclusion and addresses the safety and effectiveness of available vaccines."

Some teams are enacting their own safety protocols ahead of the 2021 season.

Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks players announced Tuesday they are shunning in-person voluntary offseason workouts because of the coronavirus pandemic. Players on other teams were expected to follow suit. Except for one minicamp, the offseason programs are voluntary, although most players participate in them and many players have contractual incentives to do so.

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DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, tweeted on Tuesday, "We find ourselves still in the midst of a pandemic with no comprehensive plan to keep players as safe as possible, yet teams are pressuring players to attend voluntary workouts."

"The union has advised players that given the continued risk of exposure and the goal of a full 2021 NFL season, that they should not attend these voluntary workouts," Smith added. "It is every player’s decision, but our advice is to continue to use an abundance of caution given the current environment."

The NFL played its full schedule last season despite having to do some juggling of the schedule because of COVID-19 outbreaks. Players were tested daily, were under a mask mandate and for the last half of the season only met virtually outside of practice.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.