Independent media will not have access to locker rooms during the upcoming NFL season.
The league published a memo on Tuesday outlining the 2021 locker room policy. The list of approved non-player personnel in locker rooms includes coaching staff, athletic training staff, equipment staff, general manager, team security, club public relations/communications and clubhouse or locker room support staff.
No more than 50 non-players will be allowed in a locker room at one time, and everyone with access must be vaccinated for COVID-19.
Not included on the list? Reporters. In fact, the NFL went out of its way to hammer home that point, writing in bold font: "Non-club-affiliated media will not be permitted in the locker room."
The implied reasoning for the policy is clear. The NFL is protecting its players and, subsequently, its $16 billion product from COVID-19. The league reportedly fell $4.5 billion short of its revenue goal in 2020 because of the pandemic.
With COVID-19 still raging, the NFL is mitigating risk whenever and wherever it can in 2021. That includes a strict vaccine policy and limited access to players and locker rooms.
How long will media ban in locker rooms last?
At the same time, the locker room policy is drawing reasonable skepticism in media circles. Is the NFL using COVID-19 as a cover to limit media access to paid employees of NFL teams? If independent media are held to the same vaccine protocols as everyone else, then why wouldn't they be allowed access alongside team communication staffers?
For now, the NFL's policy will go largely unchallenged. It's difficult to make a reasonable stand against mitigating COVID-19 risks with the Delta variant extending our collective pandemic experience. But if we manage to work our way past the depths of COVID-19 by next season, the NFL will be expected to lift restrictions on reporter access. If it doesn't, the league's media partners will certainly have something to say.
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