Mike Zimmer: Unvaccinated Vikings will ‘have a harder time’ in 2021 season

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer looks on against New Orleans Saints on December 25, 2020 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA.  ((Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images))

One of the biggest questions facing NFL players heading into the 2021 season has nothing to do with what transpires on the field. Do players get a COVID-19 vaccine, or don’t they?

It appears life both on the field and away from the team will be just as challenging for players not vaccinated as it was in 2020, when they played regular season games in empty stadiums due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The NFL on Wednesday sent out a memo to teams on protocols for the 2021 season. If players are vaccinated, it’s essentially football like it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Players who aren’t fully vaccinated face far more restrictions. Here’s a look:

  • Daily COVID-19 testing
  • Masks are required at team facilities, and during travel
  • Must remain physically distant from others in the team facility
  • Must quarantine after a high-risk exposure to COVID-19
  • Travel restrictions
  • 15 player limit in the weight room
  • Players not vaccinated can’t eat with teammates
  • Players can’t leave team hotel during travel, go out to dinner, interact with anyone outside of their traveling party

Players who do get vaccinated are free to be in their team facility without masks, have no travel restrictions and can see family and friends while on the road. They won't face daily testing and will instead be tested every two weeks, won't have to quarantine after a possible exposure to COVID-19 and have no physical distancing requirements. They can also eat out together, and attend team meetings in-person.

It remains to be seen whether the restrictions create a divide in NFL locker rooms. Before minicamp practice on Wednesday, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said the team held a meeting with Dr. Allen Sills, the Chief Medical Officer for the NFL. 

Players have been given the resources to make an informed decision, which is a personal decision.

"We’re just trying to educate these guys, they have to make their own decisions. The unvaccinated players are going to have a harder time in the season," Zimmer said. "They’re going to be wearing masks, they’ll have to social distance, they’ll have daily testing, they won’t be able to go home for bye week, they’ll have to come back here and test every day. When we go on the road, they won’t be able to go out to dinner with anybody. They’ll have to travel on buses differently, travel on planes differently, meetings will be virtual. Not only the safety party of getting vaccinated, but as far as being part of a football team, it’s just going to be so much easier."

On Tuesday, Harrison Smith, Adam Thielen and Sheldon Richardson were all asked if they’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine. All three said they are not vaccinated.

"Just like everybody else, make your own decision," Smith said.

On Wednesday, quarterback Kirk Cousins declined to offer his medical information.

"I think people need to make their own decision and make the one that’s best for them and their families," Cousins said.