The Slatest

Tampa Bay Bucs’ 100 Percent Vaccination Rate Shows the NFL’s Covid Policy Is Working

A detailed view of the NFL logo on the field during an NFL game.
The Tampa Bay Bucs are all vaxed up. Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Professional athletes getting vaccinated has been a sticky subject for American sports leagues that are, like all workplaces, trying to ensure that their employees have a safe work environment where they don’t contract a virus that could kill them. The easiest road to non-death—individually and collectively—is through vaccination, so it makes sense that the major sports leagues, like many employers, have strongly encouraged vaccination, though have yet to require it, at least for players. That’s why it’s encouraging to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers become the second NFL team—joining the Atlanta Falcons—to announce a 100 percent vaccination rate among its players. “We’re 100% vaccinated—our entire organization—all the players, all the coaches, everybody,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians announced Thursday.

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What’s working for the NFL? While the NFL is not mandating players get vaccinated, it’s basically told its teams, if a game can’t be played because of an outbreak stemming from unvaccinated players—the team not only will forfeit the game, it also will have to foot the bill. “If a game is cancelled/postponed because a club cannot play due to a Covid spike among or resulting from its non-vaccinated players/staff, then the burden of the cancellation or delay will fall on the club experiencing the Covid infection,” a league memo sent to teams in July states. “We will seek to minimize the burden on the opposing club or clubs. If a club cannot play due to a Covid spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams.”

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Since the bigger picture clearly hasn’t worked on still-unvaccinated players, taking aim at their direct self-interest seems like a pretty compelling approach. The league has also made the testing requirement even more onerous if a player decides not to get vaccinated, mandating daily testing, including off days, before entering the team’s practice facility. Vaccinated players that do contract the virus will also be able to return to action faster, after two negative tests 24 hours apart, while unvaccinated players will require 10-day isolation no matter what.

And, for once, the NFL seems to have done something right. Its vaccination nudge is working. As of last week, the NFL said the league-wide vaccination rate for players was at 93 percent and 99 percent for staff.

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