NFL Threatens Harsh New Penalty for COVID Protocol Violations


Ethan Miller/Getty Images Head coach Jon Gruden of the Las Vegas Raiders smiles after the Raiders defeated the New Orleans Saints 34-24 at Allegiant Stadium on September 21, 2020.

Fines haven’t been enough to ensure NFL teams remain compliant with the league’s COVID-19 protocols. On Monday afternoon NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all team owners, club presidents, general managers, head coaches and infection control officers regarding COVID protocol compliance, reminding everyone that “compliance is mandatory” and urging all members of the NFL community to guard against complacency.

“The preseason and the first three weeks of the regular season proved that strict adherence to the mandatory protocols jointly developed with the NFLPA make it possible to play football in a safe and responsible environment,” wrote Goodell.

“The protocols do not implement themselves, however, and our progress thus far cannot lead us to complacency. Complacency is our shared opponent. We must reinforce our commitment to full adherence to our mandatory safety protocols and best practices.”

Changes to the Protocols

As for those mandatory safety protocols, the letter indicates that changes to the protocols have been implemented, and that those changes have already been related to the league’s teams. Specific details aren’t included in the letter but relate to:

– A longer onboarding process for free agent tryouts
– Bans on gatherings outside club facilities
– Limitations on the number of tryouts permitted per week
– Implementation of league-wide video monitoring systems to ensure compliance with protocols, “particularly the mandate that all staff and players wear PPE while in a club facility and on travel at all times.”

Penalties for COVID-19 Protocol Violations

Goodell’s letter goes on to remind teams that “there have been breaches to the protocols and individual players, staff, and clubs have been disciplined as a result,” noting that discipline “will escalate where noncompliance continues.”

The Commissioner also seems to indicate that violations which both lead to the spread of coronavirus and impact other NFL teams may be penalized more harshly than previously indicated.

“Protocol violations that result in virus spread requiring adjustments to the NFL schedule or otherwise impact other teams will result in additional financial and competitive discipline, including the adjustment or loss of draft choices or even the forfeit of a game.”

At the moment, the Tennessee Titans are under investigation for ‘failure to follow’ COVID-19 protocols and Tennessee’s COVID-19 outbreak forced the NFL to reschedule the team’s Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The memo seems to suggest that if a similar scenario unfolds later this season (and the team in question is found guilty of protocol violations) that team could be required to forfeit a game. That would be a dramatic penalty, not only for the club but for the league, which would have to refund the relevant television network for the untelevised game (or games).

“Now is the time to recommit ourselves to our protocols and best practices for the duration of the season,” concludes Goodell, reminding readers that rescheduling or canceling games has serious consequences, which can include competitive inequities, players not getting paid for games and other financial consequences.

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