In its latest round of discussions with the NFL regarding COVID-19 protocols for the 2021 season, the NFL Players Association is proposing that vaccinated players be tested more frequently than current protocols require.
Currently, vaccinated players only have to be tested for COVID-19 every 14 days, while unvaccinated players have to be tested every day. The players' union would like to test more frequently -- every five days, for example, though the actual number is still a matter of discussion.
"I think we have to," NFLPA president and Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter told ESPN at training camp on Tuesday. "I think we're just setting ourselves up for failure if we don't. You can't go 13 days straight without testing people in the building with the breakthrough cases and now the ability of vaccinated people to transmit the Delta variant. You're going to start getting positives and not know where it came from because you're not testing people, and it's just not worth the risk."
The NFL on Tuesday said 90% of its players are either fully vaccinated or have had at least one dose. Nine teams have more than 95% of their players vaccinated and 27 have more than 85% vaccinated. So a new testing cadence for vaccinated players would affect the vast majority of the league. But under the union's proposal, vaccinated players would still be allowed into the team facility while their test results were being determined while unvaccinated players would still have to wait for their results to come back before entering the building.
"Taking 60 seconds to test as you walk in the building I don't think is a big ask," Tretter said. "I think if it was, 'You have to MESA test and wait 40 minutes in your car,' guys would be upset."
There was some pushback from players on an NFLPA conference call last week to address the issue of more frequent testing of vaccinated players. But union leadership is trying to stress to its members that protocol changes are the result of constantly emerging new data and information.
The union is still discussing its desire for more frequent testing of vaccinated players internally and with the league, and it's unclear what the outcome of those discussions will be. But Tretter said everyone should expect the protocols to evolve as the season goes along.
"Last year, where we started in training camp versus where we ended in Week 17 were two totally different places for the protocols, and it should be the same expectation this year," Tretter said. "We're learning more about delta every single day. Where we start training camp and where we end this season, those protocols are going to look vastly different. And that doesn't mean it's a failure or we didn't do everything we could. It just means that we continued to follow the new data and science we learned to put us in the best position to have a season."
Tretter knows it's a tough sell, as it is in society at large, when vaccinated individuals are given new guidelines that make it feel as if they're moving backward. But the priority isn't to fit new data into existing protocols; it's to fit the protocols around the new data.
"Nobody wants to do the protocols, and I think that's an accurate statement countrywide," Tretter said. "No one wants to take mitigation steps. It's not fun. It's not enjoyable. But the only thing that stops us from having a season is transmission. So I think guys understand that we have to take the necessary steps to stop transmission or else. I would rather wear a mask than not get paid six weeks of pay.
"So I think everyone has to understand, we never just add protocols just to add them. We have a group of experts that are advising us the best ways to get through an entire season. That means keep as many people as healthy as possible but also that we play all the games and get everybody paid. And taking shortcuts to have easier protocols but decreasing your likelihood of getting paid probably isn't worth it."