August 27, 2021

By Amy Tennery

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The National Football League (NFL) said on Thursday it has been clear it wanted to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for players, as it reported a nearly 93% inoculation take-up, despite claims from the players’ union that the league had not proposed such a step.

NFLPA President JC Tretter, who plays for the Cleveland Browns, told ESPN this week that the NFL did not enforce or even discuss making vaccines a requirement to play in the league this season, despite mandating inoculations for staff and coaches.

“I honestly don’t understand where that came from,” NFL General Counsel Lawrence Ferazani told reporters on Thursday. “We’ve been discussing with the players’ association mandatory vaccination from the start.”

Ferazani said that the league “would still love to see that mandate go into effect tomorrow.”

The NFLPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The back-and-forth was the latest sign of tension between the league and the union, after a spat earlier this year over in-person voluntary workouts, with some players objecting over concerns related to the pandemic.

With the vaccination rate among players hovering around 75% a month ago, the NFL informed teams that COVID-19 outbreaks among non-vaccinated players could lead to forfeits and loss of pay if games cannot be rescheduled.

The measure may have prompted broader adoption of the COVID-19 vaccine, with roughly 7% of players unvaccinated two weeks ahead of the 2021 season kickoff and all 30 stadiums expected to host full-capacity games.

“Our NFL facilities are the safest places in their community,” said Allan Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer. “If we had those kind of vaccination rates in society right now, we would be in a far, far better place in regard to where this pandemic currently is.”

Reuters data show 61% of the United States population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Earlier this week, the U.S. was averaging around 1,000 COVID-19-related deaths and more than 150,000 new cases per day, according to a Reuters tally.

(Reporting by Amy Tennery; editing by Jane Wardell)