Aaron Rodgers and the COVID Controversy in the NFL

Samir Jamdar ‘23

On November 9th 2021, The N.F.L. fined the Green Bay Packers $300,000 and two of its players, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Allen Lazard $14,650 each for failing to follow the COVID-19 protocols agreed upon by the league and players’ union.

The penalties come about a week after Rodgers tested positive for the coronavirus and his subsequent public statements espousing false and unfounded claims about the COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Those comments were condemned by public health officials and by some fellow athletes, but the league’s decision focused on his compliance with the rules. Rodgers and Lazard, who is also unvaccinated, were penalized for attending a Halloween party even though the Covid-19 protocols prohibit unvaccinated players from gathering outside of the team facility in a group of more than three players.

Rodgers also did not wear a mask when speaking with reporters, another violation of the league’s rules. The team, which was notified of the fines late Tuesday and cooperated with the league’s investigation, was penalized far more than the players because it did not do more to police their behavior. The team did not sanction the Halloween party, for instance, but was aware that it took place and did not discipline Rodgers or Lazard, and did not report their violations to the league.

“We respect the League’s findings and we recognize the importance of adherence to the COVID protocols to keep our team and organization safe and healthy,” Mark Murphy, the Packers’ team president, said in a statement. “We will continue to educate the team regarding the importance of the protocols and remain committed to operating within the protocols.” [1]

The league said it found no widespread mask-wearing violations. But if the Packers are found to have violated the league’s protocols again, they could face harsher penalties, including the loss of draft picks. The players were also told they could face additional discipline if they violated the protocols again.

Like all players who test positive for the virus, Rodgers must be cleared by a team doctor in consultation with an independent expert after his isolation. The fines for Rodgers and Lazard are similar to those levied against players last season, and were in line with penalties negotiated by the N.F.L. and the players’ union. 

At the beginning of the year, Aaron Rodgers claimed he was “immunized”, but never specified whether he was vaccinated or not. Thus, once Rodgers became infected with the virus, this came as a surprise to the entire league. Rodgers’ COVID misunderstanding resulted in stricter guidelines set forth by the NFL Players Association and Roger Goodell. In a statement, the league commissioner stated that teams will be fined a heavy amount for violating COVID safety precautions. Furthermore, Goodell ensured that players must get vaccinated and exceptions will be made on a case by case basis. In Rodgers’ instance, the NFL has clearly stated that only the specified vaccines are an acceptable form of protection against COVID and other treatments by the league will not be recognized. 


[1] https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/32593729/green-bay-packers-aaron-rodgers-allen-lazard-fined-covid-19-protocol-violations-source-says