While it remains to be seen exactly how the NFL will approach the COVID-19 protocols for the 2021 season, it is expected that there will be a vaccination threshold at which point teams will be allowed to operate under relaxed restrictions; 85% has been thrown around.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, from owner Art Rooney II to alumni such as Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis, and Ryan Shazier, have encouraged players and the general public to get vaccinated. There is still time before training camp opens for players to undergo the full vaccination cycle in time.
Many have begun reporting on team statuses. Earlier today, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the Steelers’ own status in that regard. “I am really comfortable”, he said. “I like the overall trajectory of our participation in the vaccination process. Guys have worked hard to adhere to the policies and the protocols”.
Earlier today, Tom Pelissero reported that more than half of players on current rosters have at least begun their vaccination cycle. He noted that 16 teams had at least 51 players fully vaccinated or in the vaccination cycle. Aditi Kinkhabwala added that the Steelers are in the upper echelon, which Tomlin echoed.
“We’re doing really well relative to the rest of our peers, and we just hope to continue to work in that area, and hopefully it’s a win for us as we proceed”, he said. “I think we had a couple [players get vaccinated] today. I don’t know the exact percentage, but from what I understand, we’re tops in the league in this process”.
The stark reality is that the vaccination record can be used as a competitive advantage this year. Players who are vaccinated will have fewer restrictions than those who are not, as will teams who have a certain percentage of players vaccinated in comparison to teams who don’t. Tomlin knows this, and hopes to benefit from it.
“It’s just been a continuation of 2020 in regards to our attitude”, he said. “We’re gonna work hard to adhere. We’re gonna look for any advantage that compliance might give us. Participation has been awesome, from what I understand”.
It should be made clear that the league has been quite explicit that it is not a prerequisite for players to get vaccinated. It is also not required for coaches and staff; however, for the latter group, they might lose their Tier 1 status and will have to conduct some of their work virtually, which would not apply to the players.
Given the benefits of operating with fewer restrictions, however, it is anticipated that many players who have been on the fence about getting vaccinated will ultimately make the decision to do so. It doesn’t appear that it will be an issue in the Steelers’ locker room this year.