The NFL has begun conducting interviews with Packers personnel and is expected to obtain video and other evidence as it reviews the team's compliance with COVID protocols, in light of the public revelation that reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers is unvaccinated. And Rodgers and the club could face fines -- but not a suspension -- if violations are found.
The league and team know the vaccination status of all players, including Rodgers, who will miss Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs after testing positive Wednesday for COVID-19. But Rodgers' positive test brought his status into the public eye and led to the NFL launching its review Thursday.
Under the jointly negotiated NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 protocols -- which Rodgers strongly criticized in a Friday appearance on The Pat McAfee Show, saying "some of the rules are not based in science at all" -- Rodgers faces potential fines from the club or the league for appearing maskless at press conferences and attending a Halloween party with many teammates. And sources say the NFL is looking into both.
The NFL said in a statement Wednesday: "The primary responsibility for enforcement of the COVID protocols within club facilities rests with each club. Failure to properly enforce the protocols has resulted in discipline being assessed against individual clubs in the past. The league is aware of the current situation in Green Bay and will be reviewing the matter with the Packers."
Because he's unvaccinated, Rodgers must isolate for 10 days and isn't eligible to rejoin the team until Saturday, a day before the Packers' next game against the Seahawks.
As is standard protocol, the NFL also has a lab conducting genomic sequencing to help determine where Rodgers contracted the virus. Practice-squad quarterback Kurt Benkert also tested positive this past week, and others -- including star receiver Davante Adams and defensive coordinator Joe Barry -- recently returned after their own positive tests.
Under the NFL-NFLPA protocols, Rodgers' positive test means he is now exempted from daily COVID testing for 90 days -- until the week before the Super Bowl. He is still subject to daily symptom screening and weekly testing.
In his McAfee appearance, Rodgers said he had followed every protocol "to a T" except for the mandatory masking at press conferences, which he said makes no sense since he (like all unvaccinated players) is tested for COVID daily and is naturally distanced from the completely masked media core. The NFL, of course, had seen the press conferences since training camp and knew Rodgers wasn't wearing a mask.
The Halloween party could be more problematic. Dressed as movie character John Wick, Rodgers turned up in social media posts without a mask in videos and pictures with teammates, including tight end Marcedes Lewis and receiver Randall Cobb. Under the NFL-NFLPA protocols, unvaccinated players are barred from a variety of activities, including gathering outside the club facility in groups of more than three and going to an indoor nightclub or bar. The standard fine is $14,650 for first-time offenders, with repeat violations subjecting players to increased discipline, including for conduct detrimental with a maximum fine of one week's salary and/or a suspension without pay for up to four weeks.
Another question the league will be asking: Did Rodgers participate in any commercial or promotional shoots? If so, there are different rules for unvaccinated players. Did he follow those?
Rodgers previously had sought and was denied an exemption from the NFL-NFL Players Association COVID-19 protocols based on his antibody levels this summer, which left his status as unvaccinated, NFL Media reported Wednesday.
Rodgers received homeopathic treatment from his personal doctor to raise his antibody levels and asked the NFLPA to review his status. The players' union, the NFL-NFLPA jointly designated infectious disease consultant and the league agreed that Rodgers' treatment did not provide any documented protection from the coronavirus.
Accordingly, Rodgers did not qualify for an exemption, and he remained subject to a variety of restrictions, including daily testing, mask-wearing and high-risk close contact protocol that would force him to isolate for five days based on interaction with a positive individual, even if he tested negative.
In the McAfee interview, Rodgers said he's allergic to an ingredient in mRNA vaccines, which precluded him from getting the Moderna and Pfizer shots. He then cited a temporary pause in April on usage of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for clotting issues as the reason for his dismissal of that treatment. (According to the CDC, blood clot issues with low platelets occur at a rate of about 7 per 1 million vaccinated women between 18 and 49 years old. For women 50 years and older and men of all ages, it is even rarer.)
The uproar over Rodgers' status was fueled in large part by Rodgers responding in August to a question about whether he'd been vaccinated by saying he'd been "immunized".
"I really felt like, at the time, there was a time and place for sharing of information," Rodgers said. "It was such a witch hunt. They wanted to out and shame and denigrate every single person who didn't immediately say, 'Oh I got the Pfizer, I got the Moderna,' whatever. I wanted it to go away. Everyone on the squad knew I was not vaccinated, everyone in the organization knew I wasn't vaccinated. I wasn't hiding it from anybody. I was trying to minimize and mitigate this conversation that would go on and on."