The NFL wanted to have a system in place by the time training camps opened to differentiate within a team’s facility who has been fully vaccinated and who has not, ostensibly to more easily monitor who has to follow which set of protocols. They ultimately left it up to teams to decide how to manage this, with many opting to have unvaccinated players wear, for example, wristbands.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were among such teams, who opted to have unvaccinated players wear yellow wristbands, though as of yesterday, it is not clear if there are any unvaccinated players remaining. Najee Harris and Anthony McFarland previously had them, but no longer, so it appears, which indicates that they have completed their vaccination cycle—that or the team decided to stop doing it.
That would be right fine with J.C. Tretter, the Cleveland Browns’ starting center and the president of the NFLPA. He was critical of the NFL’s desire to have a system of differentiating vaccinated and unvaccinated players, something that his team is not doing.
“It’s just kind of a nonsensical idea”, he argued, via Nat Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. “They say they need a differentiator between unvaccinated and vaccinated players. We already have a differentiator. The unvaccinated players need to wear masks. No other sports leagues use any sort of scarlet marking or helmet decal or wristband because they know it’s not necessary and the teams know who’s vaccinated and not vaccinated”.
Of course, players who are vaccinated could also opt to wear masks if they wanted to, as well, and perhaps some will, following the CDC’s updated recommendation that even vaccinated individuals wear masks when indoors in enclosed spaces. The NFL’s current COVID-19 protocols require unvaccinated players to wear masks even during walkthroughs and stretch lines, though. The wristbands, which aren’t easily removed, can also help make sure the players who need to wear masks are wearing masks.
“What it really comes down to is the NFL wanted to put a policy in place to try to shame unvaccinated players publicly about their status and make that known to everybody on the field”, Tretter argues, a sentiment with which many people agree. “We all know who’s vaccinated, who’s not and it doesn’t need to be a scarlet marking on peoples’ helmets or wrists”.
It remains to be seen whether or not the league will revisit this topic and advise teams not to differentiate players in this way. Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters that everybody already has their vaccination status on the lanyards that they wear while in the building.
“I don’t know why some teams are doing it, and I think players should ask their teams why they’re doing it because, again, I think it’s unnecessary”, Tretter said. As previously stated, it is not clear if the Steelers are continuing to have unvaccinated players wear wristbands, or if there even are any remaining fully unvaccinated players on the roster.