In mid-June, the NFL and the NFL Players Association announced they had agreed to a new set of COVID-19 guidelines for 2021 training camps and the preseason—and the rules for those who have and those who have not been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus are in stark contrast. The new regulations include no mask, physical-distancing, or daily testing mandates for vaccinated individuals. But for those who have not received the experimental jab, the league will label them as unvaccinated, and life at their high-paying sports job will remain highly restricted.

Despite the fact most sports media organizations appear to support and promote the push for players to get the COVID-19 vaccine, some players in the league are speaking up. Following the June 16, 2021 memo outlining the new rules, Bengals running back Joe Mixon expressed frustration over the restrictions agreed upon by the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) that will apply to unvaccinated players in the upcoming season. Mixon tweeted:

“The NFLPA is not for the players they act like they represent us and they clearly show us different time & time again,” adding “this is who y’all players want to be led by,” along with, “I thought Football was a team sport and it’s clearly being individualized by beliefs.”

Following Mixon’s remarks, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley, who complied with last year’s restrictions of social distancing and mask mandates, joined the conversation. In a lengthy tweet, Beasley remarked, “I’m not taking meds for a leg that isn’t broken. I’d rather take my chances with Covid and build up my immunity that way. Eat better. Drink water. Exercise and do what I think is necessary to be a healthy individual. That is MY CHOICE based on MY experiences and what I think is best.” Beasley, who called the players association a joke, added:

“I understand completely why the NFL is doing this. It gives them back the freedom to make the most money as possible again if everyone is vaccinated. But will anyone fight for the players or nah?”

Receiving no support from the NFLPA in expressing his right to choose whether to receive the emergency-use only COVID-19 vaccine, Beasley’s comments were quickly attacked by Sports Illustrated’s Fan Nation. Sportswriter and former Boston Globe and Boston Herald contributor Ron Borges went after Beasley’s decision to speak up about his right to medical freedom. In a Jun. 24 article, Borges declared:

“Cole Beasley is the latest to prove that while there is a vaccine for COVID-19, there is not one for COVID-stupid. This week the Buffalo Bills’ scrappy little receiver announced he planned to refuse to comply with regulations negotiated by the union that represents NFL players — regulations that give fully vaccinated players more freedom to return to normal than non-vaccinated players.”

Borges is no stranger to igniting controversy. The Boston Herald suspended his columns in 2018 after a story he wrote about a “money hungry” Tom Brady turned out to be false. In 2007, Borges was suspended from his job at the Boston Globe after being accused of plagiarizing part of his column from another sports reporter.

Buffalo Bills strong safety Jordan Poyer, one of Beasley’s teammates, supported his colleague’s position, blasting Buffalo News cartoonist Adam Zyglis following the “disturbing graphic” Zyglis created depicting Beasley. Poyer tweeted, “@adamzyglis can get away with posting a disturbing graphic on my teammates ?! Yet, when others have an OPINION that goes against the media’s narrative all hell breaks loose?! Are we serious?? @TheBuffaloNews. WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS!”

Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson, who has only been on the team for four months, recently spoke up about the division being created in the NFL surrounding vaccines. On his podcast “All Things Covered,” Peterson revealed that he has gotten the COVID-19 vaccine for the sake of the team and winning. He shared his thoughts on those players who choose not to get vaccinated, saying:

“If you’re not vaccinated, you’re just living in a different world. Everybody has their different views on [getting the vaccine]. But at the end of the day, if we’re all in this in trying to win a championship and there’s a very small percentage of the shots [negatively] affecting people, why not put yourself in the best position possible to win a championship, if that’s what you have a desire of doing?”

Designed to encourage players to get the shot, the new NFL/NFLPA guidelines allow vaccinated players to go to places they deem to be high-risk, like bars and nightclubs. Unvaccinated players are not allowed to venture out, and if they get caught doing so, they can be fined up to $50,000.

Other stipulations set by the league and agreed upon by the player’s association include:

  • Fully vaccinated players who have close contact with someone who has COVID-19 will not have to quarantine, but unvaccinated players will continue to have to quarantine.
  • Unvaccinated players will be tested every day; vaccinated players will not.
  • Unvaccinated players must wear masks at the team facility and while traveling; vaccinated players do not need to wear masks.
  • Unvaccinated players must practice physical distancing in the team facility; fully vaccinated people do not have to practice distancing with each other.
  • Unlimited numbers of vaccinated players may be in the weight room, but only 15 unvaccinated players may be in the weight room.
  • Unvaccinated players may not eat meals with teammates; Vaccinated players may gather for meals.
  • Unvaccinated players may not participate in media or marketing activities while traveling; vaccinated players may.
  • Unvaccinated players may not use the sauna or steam room; vaccinated players may.
  • Unvaccinated players may not leave the team hotel or interact with people outside the team while traveling; vaccinated players may.

Click to access testing-cadence-chart-61621-final.pdf

The NFL is not the only league with athletes speaking up about the right to choose whether to get the COVID-19 jab. Players from other professional sports have expressed their frustration with the vaccine being mandated in their sport. Tennis star Novak Djokovic, the world’s top men’s tennis player, recently spoke up about the topic, saying he is “opposed to vaccination.” He also noted that he is opposed to needing the vaccine to travel and wants to have “an option to chose what’s best for my body,” adding:

“Personally, I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel. But, if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision.”