The NFL is almost back to business as usual. For those who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, that is.
The league and the NFL Players Association have updated COVID-19 protocols to loosen restrictions for fully vaccinated players and to encourage others to get the vaccine.
Unvaccinated players must continue to get tested daily, wear masks and practice physical distancing. They won't be allowed to eat meals with teammates, can't participate in media or marketing activities while traveling, aren't permitted to use the sauna or steam room and may not leave the team hotel or interact with people outside the team while traveling.
Vaccinated players will not have any of those restrictions, according to a memo sent to teams Wednesday that was obtained by The Associated Press. In addition, media access to the press box, field and sidelines, locker room and postgame interview room will be available only to those who are fully vaccinated.
Several players have expressed concerns about receiving the vaccine, but the updated protocols give them more incentive to get it. Players can be fined up to $50,000 for violating protocols.
Washington Football Team pass rusher Montez Sweat said last week he "probably won't get vaccinated until I've got more facts and that type of stuff, but I'm not a fan of it at all."
Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold previously said he didn't plan to get the vaccine.
"Obviously, they agreed to those terms for a reason," Darnold said about the new protocols. "A lot of smart people came up with those restrictions, and obviously they are there for a reason. In terms of my decision (on whether) to get vaccinated, I'm just going to keep that to myself. For me, it's a personal decision that I'm going to make between me and people around me."
Teams have brought in experts to discuss the vaccine with players and staff.
"They're doing a great job of continuing to educate us and giving us resources," Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said, "and then kind of giving us the option to make that informed decision with where we're at personally and go from there."
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was asked if other players have spoken to him about the vaccine because he was a biology major at Oregon.
"I haven't talked to too many people about it," he said. "There's a small group of guys that have been vaccinated, and I've been vaccinated. I thought if it's available to be able to do all these things, it would help me in the long run. I think it's better for everyone, but it's up to everyone. So it's their opinion."
The vaccine has been a hot topic for the Buffalo Bills throughout the offseason, with coaches and management pushing for vaccination to ease restrictions and players not wanting to talk about it.
"We feel like we know that in our country and around the league where and how things are improving, and to me there's a direct correlation to people getting vaccinated," Bills coach Sean McDermott said. "I would like to continue to see our team move in that direction, continue to move an increased number of people that are getting vaccinated."