- ESPN.com national NFL writer
- ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
- Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008
News that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19, is unvaccinated and will miss this weekend’s game against the Chiefs shocked the NFL world on Wednesday — and not just because he said in August that he had already been “immunized.” Since training camp opened in late July, Rodgers had not been publicly observed to be following any of the obvious protocols for unvaccinated NFL players, as agreed upon this summer by the NFL and NFL Players Association. The NFL is currently reviewing the situation with the Packers, per a league statement on Wednesday afternoon.
So what’s the deal here? Did Rodgers mislead everyone about his vaccination status? Was he flouting NFL rules? Were the Packers or the league looking the other way? What follows is our best attempt to separate fact, assumption and outright fiction in this evolving story. We lay out what we definitively know about the situation right now and run through the league’s protocols involved, potential fines that could be in play and when Rodgers could be back on the field for Green Bay.
Rodgers tested positive Wednesday morning for COVID-19, and the Packers confirmed that backup QB Jordan Love will start Sunday night’s game against the Chiefs. That sequence made clear that Rodgers is unvaccinated.
Why is that?
Unvaccinated players who test positive must isolate at least 10 days, even if they are asymptomatic. Vaccinated players, however, can return following a positive test as soon as they produce two negative tests with 24 hours in between, as long as they are asymptomatic. In other words, Rodgers would at least have a chance to play Sunday if he were vaccinated.
Didn’t Rodgers say he had been vaccinated?
No. In August, a reporter in Green Bay asked him if he had been vaccinated for COVID-19. He answered by saying, in part: “Yeah, I’ve been immunized.”
Is there a difference?
No one thought so at the time. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines vaccination as “the act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce protection from a specific disease.” Its definition for immunization is “a process by which a person becomes protected against a disease through vaccination.”
So if you want to parse words in retrospect, you could interpret Rodgers’ response to mean he believed himself to be protected against COVID-19 without overtly saying he received an approved vaccination.
Why did he think he was protected against COVID-19?
According to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, Rodgers pursued an alternative treatment and then petitioned the NFL to recognize him as vaccinated. The NFL refused, citing the clear language of the NFL-NFLPA agreement reached this summer.
What did that agreement say about vaccination?
It offered multiple paths toward a “fully vaccinated’ status. They include:
14 days past a two-shot regimen of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine
14 days past a one-shot regime of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine
One shot of any vaccine if the player had also tested positive after August 26, has a total antibody level of 100 U/mL or greater and a positive antibody test to the COVID IgG nucleocapsid protein.
Absent one of the outcomes, Rodgers was required to follow protocols for any other unvaccinated player.
What are those protocols?
Many of them are listed here. They include daily testing and elevated mask wearing, and they are overall nearly identical to the rules that players and coaches followed during the 2020 season, before vaccines were available.
Are those the only rules unvaccinated players must follow?
No. An unvaccinated player, for example, can’t gather in a group of more than three players, coaches and other members of the football operation staff.
Didn’t Rodgers attend a Halloween party dressed as John Wick?
Rodgers definitely dressed up as John Wick. Video of him dancing surfaced on the Instagram story of teammate Marcedes Lewis. From that video, at least, it couldn’t be determined whether the other people were teammates.
Don’t the protocols also say unvaccinated players must wear masks at all times when indoors at the team facility or at the stadium on game days?
They do, and Rodgers has not been wearing one during indoor press conferences with reporters at Lambeau Field, where the Packers practice and play games. In some instances, the Packers have conducted interviews with unvaccinated players over Zoom, but Rodgers’ have all been in-person.
Rodgers hasn’t been wearing a mask on the sideline during games. Wasn’t he supposed to?
The NFL-NFLPA rules were amended this summer. Masks are required for unvaccinated players at games only if they are inactive, meaning they are not in uniform and not eligible to play. Active players are encouraged but not required to wear masks unless local or state guidelines require it, according to the current protocols. None of the four teams that the Packers have played on the road so far have required active players to wear masks on sidelines.
Did that include the preseason?
Yes, the preseason was supposed to be included. And yes, Rodgers was inactive for all three of the Packers’ preseason games. So based on any reading of the protocols, Rodgers should have been masked for those games.
Did the NFL discipline him for any of this?
As of this moment, the league has not responded to questions about that. The NFL has the ability to fine players at least $14,650 on first offense of violating COVID-19 protocols, with a maximum of $50,000.
Does Rodgers get paid while he is in isolation?
Yes. The only reason a game check could be lost is if an unvaccinated player sparks an outbreak that leads to a forfeit. In that case, no player from either team would be paid.
Well, it sure sounds like Rodgers was in violation of multiple COVID-19 protocols.
We’ll know soon enough. Ultimately, the Packers could face more culpability. The NFL issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon noting pointedly that “the primary responsibility” for enforcing COVID-19 protocols is with the team, not the league. It pledged to “review the matter” and noted that teams have been disciplined in the past for protocol violations. Among the teams fined were the New Orleans Saints ($500,000), Las Vegas Raiders ($500,000), Tennessee Titans ($350,000), New England Patriots ($350,000) and Baltimore Ravens ($250,000). The Saints were also stripped of a seventh-round draft pick, and the Raiders lost a sixth-rounder.
How worried should Rodgers and the Packers be?
The most important thing to worry about is Rodgers’ health in both the short- and long-term. The best-case scenario is that he will re-join the team the day before the Packers’ Nov. 14 game against the Seahawks. So it’s not out of the question that he could miss two games, and that’s assuming he tests negative and is asymptomatic at the 10-day mark.
Chatter throughout the day Wednesday centered on the surprise of Rodgers’ unvaccinated status, but the health of all involved should be the top priority.
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