Protocols are only as good as their enforcement. Some issues come from insufficient protocols, but some of them come from top officials receiving crucial information and then not taking action on it. That latter conversation is key to the discussion around Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers right now, as that situation looks to be a specific test of the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols. One of the league’s teams appears not to have enforced those league-mandated protocols, and the question is now what the NFL response will be.
To recap, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo reported Wednesday morning that Rodgers will miss this week’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs after contracting COVID-19. The bigger part of that report still was that Rodgers is not considered vaccinated by the league. That came after Rodgers nodding and saying he was “immunized” in direct response to an Aug. 26 question (as seen above) about if he was vaccinated:
Here’s the video on August 26th when Aaron Rodgers was directly asked if he had been vaccinated pic.twitter.com/kskQDRpWi8
— Chancellor Johnson (@ChancellorTV) November 3, 2021
Yes, Rodgers does not directly say “I’m vaccinated” there. And later reporting from Rob Demovsky at ESPN and from Rapoport and his NFL Network colleague Tom Pelissero at NFL.com stated that Rodgers did undergo a homeopathic treatment, but that the NFL, the NFLPA, and their jointly-designated consultant didn’t consider him to be vaccinated after he applied for an exemption. Here’s more from that NFL.com piece:
Rodgers received homeopathic treatment from his personal doctor to raise his antibody levels and asked the NFLPA to review his status. The players’ union, the NFL-NFLPA jointly designated infectious disease consultant and the league agreed that Rodgers’ treatment did not provide any documented protection from the coronavirus.
Accordingly, Rodgers did not qualify for an exemption, and he remained subject to a variety of restrictions, including daily testing, mask-wearing and high-risk close contact protocol that would force him to isolate for five days based on interaction with a positive individual, even if he tested negative.
And it’s those restrictions that are particularly at issue here. If Rodgers had said he chose not to get the vaccine, that’s one thing; there are still some unvaccinated NFL players (the percentage of vaccinated players was at 93.5 percent in September). But his “immunized” answer led to media believing that he was vaccinated, and attending indoor press conferences where he spoke without a mask, something only permitted for vaccinated personnel under NFL protocols. By contrast, the Packers’ other unvaccinated players were only made available to media members via Zoom.
That’s a significant risk to subject media members and other team staffers to, especially without making them aware they’re interacting with an unvaccinated, unmasked person. And there are also questions about if Rodgers was masking up around the team building (as required for unvaccinated players) when not around media; Demovsky’s sources say he was, but how reliable are those comments, especially as the alternative might lead to punishment for the team? In any case, the NFL has said they’re “reviewing” this with the team:
Statement from NFL spokesman @NFLprguy on the Packers’ COVID situation: pic.twitter.com/lQZxvWX6Yv
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 3, 2021
What makes this particular situation interesting is that people with both the Packers and the league must have known the protocols were being violated, especially when it came to the media conferences. The NFL has been quite strict on only allowing vaccinated media to conduct in-person interviews, so it’s remarkable that they weren’t as strict on who was speaking from the podium in this particular case.
And the reporting is quite clear that Rodgers’ application for an exemption was denied (by agreement of “the players’ union, the NFL-NFLPA jointly designated infectious disease consultant and the league”; getting all three of those sides to agree isn’t easy), so it seems that at least some people with the NFL knew Rodgers wasn’t vaccinated. And yet they watched him do in-person press conferences each week and said nothing? And that makes this different from say, the Jacob Ruby case in the CFL, or the Evander Kane case in the NHL; Ruby was released by the Edmonton Elks in August for a “breach of COVID-19 protocols,” reportedly for misrepresenting his vaccination status, and Kane has been suspended for 21 games without pay by the league, reportedly for using a fake vaccination card. But Rodgers didn’t misrepresent his status to his team or to the league; he misrepresented it to the media, but he told the team and league where he was at.
And that also emphasizes the importance of the Rodgers situation as a test of the league protocols. The league’s been quite strict on enforcing those protocols in other cases, keeping even a head coach out of a playoff game (Kevin Stefanski with Cleveland last season) after a positive COVID-19 test, fining the Raiders and then-head coach Jon Gruden a total of $1.2 million for protocol violations, and forcing the Broncos to play without four quarterbacks after those players reportedly tried to deceive the COVID monitoring system. But the NFL sure doesn’t seem to have done much about Rodgers to date.
And that’s definitely led to pushback from the journalists who had close contact with Rodgers without knowing he was unvaccinated, and it may also lead to pushback from other unvaccinated players who have seemingly seen much more of a focus on their actions from the league (such as Bills’ receivers Cole Beasley and Isaiah McKenzie, fined for not wearing masks in the team facility). There are some questions to be asked about why the league’s kept such a close eye on them while ignoring Rodgers’ unmasked press conferences. Yes, Rodgers is a much bigger star, and a face of the league. But that shouldn’t exempt him from the protocols. And there are a lot of questions ahead about the Packers’ efforts on these protocols, and the NFL’s oversight of them.
[Top screencap via Chancellor Johnson on Twitter]