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VERIFY Weekly: The NFL and COVID-19 vaccine policies

With the NFL season underway, the VERIFY team answered questions about vaccine policies the league and some teams have in place.

The 2020 NFL season was like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic meant tens of thousands of empty seats in stadiums across the country. Some teams had a limited number of fans while others hosted no fans.

But that’s not the case now as there have been sold-out stadiums packed with spirited fans since the NFL regular season kicked off earlier in September.

Although fans are back, the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing. The VERIFY team answered two questions regarding the NFL and COVID-19 vaccine policies as part of this week’s “VERIFY Weekly” feature. You can watch the full video on our YouTube page here.

THE QUESTION

Do any NFL teams have COVID-19 vaccination policies for fans?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, as of Sept. 17, there are four teams -- the Buffalo Bills, Las Vegas Raiders, Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints -- that have COVID-19 vaccination policies for fans.

WHAT WE FOUND

The NFL doesn’t have a league-wide COVID-19 vaccination policy for fans, but some teams have implemented their own rules.

The Bills are requiring fans 12 and older to have at least one vaccination dose to attend home games on Sept. 26 and Oct. 3. Beginning Oct. 31, fans must be fully vaccinated, meaning it's been at least two weeks since receiving the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, or at least two weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Exceptions will not be made for fans 12 and older who are unvaccinated but have a negative COVID-19 test. Click here for more on the Bills' policy

For Raiders home games, fans 12 and older who show proof of full vaccination are not required to wear masks. Fans 12 and older who have received just one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines will be required to wear a mask. Fans 12 and older who have not received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine will not be allowed to attend, regardless of if they have a negative test. Click here for more on the Raiders’ policy

The Seahawks are requiring all fans 12 and older to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours of attending a game at Lumen Field in Seattle. Click here for more on the Seahawks' policy

The Saints are requiring fans 12 and older to provide proof that they’ve received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or a negative test within 72 hours for their home game. Click here for more on the policy

THE QUESTION

Is the NFL requiring players to be vaccinated against COVID-19?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, the NFL is not requiring players to be vaccinated. However, players who are unvaccinated must follow stringent protocols that don’t apply to players who are vaccinated.

WHAT WE FOUND

The NFL’s COVID-19 protocols for the 2021 regular season do not mandate players to be vaccinated. That’s something that would have to be negotiated between the league and the players' union, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), according to sports law experts Jodi Balsam and John Wolohan. 

While there is no vaccine requirement, the NFL and NFLPA have encouraged players to get vaccinated. 

Entering this season, the NFL said 93% of players were vaccinated – a much higher rate than the U.S. adult population.

But for the players that aren’t vaccinated, there are more restrictive rules.

For example, unvaccinated players are tested daily for COVID-19 while vaccinated players are only tested weekly. Vaccinated players who test positive for COVID-19 may also be able to rejoin their team sooner than unvaccinated tested players who test positive.

The restrictions aren’t just limited to on the field or at the team facility. Unvaccinated players aren’t allowed to do certain activities in their personal times, such as go to an indoor concert. Unvaccinated players who break those rules can be fined.

Perhaps the stiffest potential consequence for unvaccinated players is causing their team to forfeit a game. The NFL made headlines this summer when it said a COVID outbreak among unvaccinated players that leads to a game being canceled will count as a forfeit for the team with the outbreak. 

“We do not anticipate adding a ‘19th week’ to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season,” a league memo said. “If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is canceled due to a COVID outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest.”

More from VERIFY: No, Tom Brady didn’t play catch with a football throwing machine

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