Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady said before the 2021 NFL season that COVID-19 would actually be harder to navigate in 2021 than it was in 2020.
After the first eight weeks of the regular-season schedule, it seemed like the NFL was doing just fine dealing with the virus after a rollercoaster of a 2020 season, and it looked like everything was going to be ay-okay.
Then, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 in the days leading up to a matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, one of the league’s biggest games of the year.
Had Rodgers been vaccinated, it might’ve turned into a non-story, considering how easy it is for those players to get back on the field from a testing perspective in comparison to their non-vaccinated coworkers.
Instead, an unvaccinated Rodgers will miss at least 10 days of action due to the league’s COVID-19 protocols for the 2021 season, and he’ll be out for at least one, if not both, of the Packers’ next two games.
The earliest he can return to the Packers’ roster is November 13, the day before the franchise’s Week 10 tilt with the Seattle Seahawks.
The on-the-field effects of Rodgers’ decision are obvious. Fans will be able to look at the differences in the Packers’ play on the field when Rodgers isn’t there, and those in Green Bay will see the effects when looking back at the Packers’ 2021 record if they lose against the Chiefs.
But, there’s more to the story that makes the situation in Green Bay a lot worse, and it dates back all the way to a point before the 2021 regular season even began.
On August 26, 2021, Rodgers was asked during a press conference if he had been vaccinated and if he had a stance on vaccinations. In response, Rodgers said he was “immunized,” and expounded on his thoughts about vaccinations.
“There’s guys on the team that haven’t been vaccinated,” Rodgers said. “I think it’s a personal decision, I’m not going to judge those guys.”
You could make the argument that Rodgers may have been vaccinated for something other than COVID-19, like the flu, and that the reporter should’ve been more specific about whether he had been vaccinated against COVID-19.
But, given the context clues, Rodgers should have been able to answer honestly about his status in regards to the COVID-19 vaccine specifically.
It created confusion when Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 in November and was instantly ruled out for the Packers’ game against the Chiefs, because many believed he was vaccinated and was eligible to return before Week 9’s Sunday slate kicked off.
It also likely brought up some concerns internally in Green Bay among players and staff inside the Packers facility, who were likely under the impression that their star quarterback had been vaccinated and following proper COVID-19 protocols for the first half of the season.
If Rodgers was breaking the league’s COVID-19 protocols all season, there are serious punishments that could be handed out as a result of his decision.
He seemingly missed out on a series of regular fines, which include a $14,650 penalty for “refusal to: (i) wear a mask or PPE; and/or (ii) maintain physical distancing in club facilities or during travel. — $14,650.”
“Repeat violations of the offenses listed above will subject players to increased discipline, including for conduct detrimental with a maximum fine amount equal to one week’s salary and/or suspension without pay for a period not to exceed four (4) weeks.”
It’s unlikely that the NFL would suspend one of the league’s premier quarterbacks in the midst of a stellar regular season, let alone in what may be his final season with the Packers.
But, it all sets a dangerous precedent, one that other players and staff members around the league could take advantage of.
If Rodgers did lie about his vaccination status and only misses out on his one week because he tested positive, other players may be willing to take the same risk.
There’s a snowball effect to the whole situation, and football fans need to realize that there’s more to Rodgers’ positive COVID-19 test than the detail that he’ll miss a highly-anticipated game against the Chiefs.