Specific verbiage is very important when you’re trying to get away with something. For quarterback Aaron Rodgers, it was “immunized.” For head coach Matt LaFleur, it’s “football space.”
In the fallout of Rodgers’ positive COVID test and the subsequent revelation that he in fact is unvaccinated, many are looking back at the Packers’ enforcement of the league’s protocol throughout the season, specifically in regards to Rodgers. If the Packers get punished by the league for treating Rodgers like he was a vaccinated player, the most forward-facing violation that has occurred was their allowing of Rodgers to participate in the indoor media room without being masked.
According to the NFL’s protocol, unvaccinated players must stay masked within the team facility at all times, with a $14,650 fine sent to the player per violation. The league also states “Repeat violations of the offenses listed above will subject players to increased discipline, including for conduct detrimental with a maximum fine amount equal to one week’s salary and/or suspension without pay for a period not to exceed four (4) weeks.”
Rodgers has been seen in the indoor media room maskless throughout his return to Green Bay, raising questions about if the league will punish him or the team for prior actions. LaFleur was adamant yesterday that the league had never questioned if the Packers had violated protocol, stating that the team has been playing by the rules in the “football space.”
Following those claims, the NFL opened up an investigation on Green Bay’s protocol enforcement yesterday. LaFleur clarified today that the team has “no information” on the investigation, but the highlight of his press conference was when we finally got a definition of what these rule-abiding “football spaces” were.
Q: “Hey, Matt, earlier you said that you’re 100 percent confident in following the protocols inside the building. Can you explain why Aaron Rodgers should be allowed to be unmasked for those media availabilities?”
A: “That’s not what I said. I said ‘within our football space.’ Meeting rooms, walkthrough, everything we do in that area.”
Q: “Are there different rules for media availabilities?”
A: “I don’t pay attention to the media rules.”
To recap: The Packers are, according to LaFleur, following rules in their football facility outside of the media room, which he seemingly doesn’t care about. Why doesn’t he care? The league has never contacted the team and told them they were in violation of protocol for allowing Rodgers to do indoor media availability maskless. With other unvaccinated players, like Chicago’s Damien Williams and Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, doing similar, you can imagine why a team would think they can get away with the decision.
But now eyes are on the NFL and we know how they react when the pressure gets turned up. It will be interesting to see if the Packers will be singled out in their violations of the protocol or if the rest of the league will be held to the same standard for prior actions, too. It will also be tough for the league to make the case that the NFL didn’t know teams were violating protocol when their television network, social accounts, and website(s) were posting press conference videos of these protocol violations all season.
This, again, could all have been avoided if the Packers simply allowed for Rodgers’ media availability to go through Zoom, as they have for unvaccinated receiver Allen Lazard this season. The motivations for not outing Rodgers as an unvaccinated aren’t clear, but covering for his “immunization” has reached a boiling point where both the team and Rodgers could face punishment for it.