The NFL had released their individual level protective protocols for COVID in June. Players were not mandated to get vaccinations. However vaccinated players would have life made far easier:
Players who are not fully vaccinated have to be tested for COVID-19 every day. They must wear masks at all times at team facilities and during team travel. They must remain physically distant from others in team facilities. They must quarantine after any high-risk exposure to the coronavirus. They will undergo travel restrictions. They must be limited regarding personnel in the weight room. They can’t eat with their teammates in the cafeteria. There are no social media/marketing/sponsorship activities permitted. They may not use the team sauna or steam room. They can’t leave team hotels to eat in restaurants, and they can’t interact with anyone outside of the team’s traveling party during team travel.
Vaccinated players have no such restrictions.
For players who are not stars or whose contracts make them readily cuttable, the business case for vaccination is easy — coaches will prefer vaccinated players because, all else being equal, a vaccinated player is far more likely to be available for a game on Sunday than an unvaccinated player. For the players who could look at their situation and figure out that they are closer to the bottom of the roster than the top, reducing roster variance risk is a damn good reason to get vaccinated.
And now, the NFL is strengthening the team based stick:
The NFL just informed clubs that if a game cannot be rescheduled during the 18-week season in 2021 due to a COVID outbreak among unvaccinated players, the team with the outbreak will FORFEIT and be credited with a loss for playoff seeding, per sources.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 22, 2021
Unless a team is intentionally tanking, the risk of losing games due to COVID no-contests is likely to be intolerable to coaches as they construct their rosters and practice squads. Vaccination is not mandatory, but being unvaccinated for anyone who is not a Pro-Bowler is becoming an untenable business case.
I think many employers will being using modest carrots and very strong sticks to change the calculation of vaccination going forward. Vaccinations may not be mandatory but they will make life far easier for people who get vaccinated than those who do not. And if this logic is combined with steps to continue to make vaccine administration common and readily achievable with common barriers to access removed, this makes a lot of sense to me.