Seahawks FS Quandre Diggs wasn’t particularly happy to be asked whether he had his COVID-19 vaccination.
“That’s my business,” he said this week after mini-camp practice at team headquarters. “I don’t go around asking people do they get the vaccine or do they not get the vaccine. That’s not for the world to know.
“The world knows all my contracts, and stuff like that. So hopefully, I keep some secret about my life. I mean, that’s that.”
I get the yearning for privacy. But we’re in a global public health crisis that requires we protect ourselves, family, friends, co-workers and total strangers in order to avert greater catastrophe.
The NFL and the Players Association agreed.
Wednesday, a day after Diggs responded, the league and union agreed on a set of COVID-19 protocols that will dictate behaviors for for the 2021 season. The 10-page memorandum is detailed and specific, but the gist is simple:
There shall be two classes of players: Vaccinated, and non-vaccinated. Football life will be easier for the vaccinated.
A tweet by the NFL’s media arm offered a side-by-side chart explaining the differences:
The NFL and NFLPA have agreed to updated COVID-19 protocols for 2021 training camp and preseason, per source.
How different will life be for vaccinated and unvaccinated players? From the memo that just went to clubs: pic.twitter.com/8yMPW0JBWZ
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 16, 2021
Basically, the non-vaccinated players will work in the 2020 world of isolation. The vaccinated players will work in a 2021 world closer to normal.
One of the restored freedoms may seem small, but was big to many players: The road-trip rendezvous with family and friends in hotel lobbies, often the first re-connection since the Seahawk left for far-off Seattle in July. That was prohibited last season. It will remain for those who refuse.
Some will describe these options as incentives; others will call it coercion. But it is definitely business in the post-pandemic frontier, where management and unions have to come together to help businesses succeed, and workers to stay healthy and paid.
There’s going to be discomfort for some. Diggs is hardly alone in his reluctance to share his decision or beliefs; whatever he or any athlete says publicly will draw social-media arrows from one side or the other. But the NFL has a problem and has to deal with it.
With the opening of training camps in six weeks, the Washington Post reported from a league source that, after five months of vaccine availability, slightly more than 50 percent of NFL players had been vaccinated (at least one dose) as of last week. According to the source, 16 teams have more than 50 of the 90 players on the roster who’ve taken the jab.
The Post said teams not doing well were the Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Chargers.
Seattle, which was the lone NFL operation to avoid a COVID-19 positive last season, isn’t yet among the league vaccination leaders, according to coach Pete Carroll.
“We’re a couple numbers away from being in the top echelon of having as many guys as anybody in the league,” he said Tuesday, “so we’re in pretty good shape right now.”
His vagueness came from league disclosure restrictions, and his optimism came from knowing the new protocols were about to be released.
The threat of re-entry into 2020 may inspire the reluctant, because the break in the league calendar will allow two shots in 28 days, plus the two-week wait to be declared fully vaccinated.
“Our guys are aware of that,” he said. “Guys that haven’t been vaccinated just want to wait as long as they can to get all the information that they can, which they deserve to do.”
Among the jabbed, freedom from masks and spacing has been notable.
“It’s just feels more open now than it did last year,” Carroll said. “The guys are just more comfortable with so many being vaccinated, and all the staff being vaccinated.
“It’s like you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a good feeling. We’re just trying to pull guys along with this, as many as we can, to make it as safe as possible.”
Carroll brought up the point that Seattle last week was the first U.S. major metropolitan area to reach a 70 percent vaccination rate, and King County followed through Tuesday. County mask mandates are on track to be lifted June 29.
“Particular parts of the country are much different than others,” he said. “Seattle is doing incredible job of complying with the issues. We’re at a good environment here that surrounds us.”
WR Tyler Lockett is the NFLPA union rep in Seattle, so he was in on the discussion that led to the protocols. He said he took the shot “because I wanted to be able to see my family,’’ but is not going pressure teammates.
“I’m not about to force people to get it or anything like that,’’ Lockett said after practice Wednesday. “It’s their decision. All I can do is just tell them what I know, and tell them why I decided to get it. But I can’t force somebody what they want to do with their life.
“All you got to do is figure out which rules you want to follow. If you choose not to get vaccinated, you got to go through those rules of last year.”
Short of 100 percent adoption, the new rules set up a potentially difficult locker-room problem: What if one non-vaccinated player gets sick and infects other non-vaxxers, taking them out of games? With small margins separating top teams, players absent via voluntary decisions isn’t going to sit well.
Lockett alluded to it this way: “You know, a lot of people aren’t going to want their money to be messed with . . . “
The league and union, which pieced together, with dents and scratches, a complete NFL season in 2020, wants to do it again, this time with full stadiums and full rosters of non-infectious players. The post-pandemic frontier is going to be a hard place.