Jim Irsay admittedly copes poorly with losing football games. Even after spending most of his six decades on Earth associated with the Colts, the team’s owner remains as competitive as he was as a kid standing on the sideline in Baltimore during his father’s stewardship of the team.
As such, Irsay has never let the usual obstacles stand in the way of winning. If the issue is money, he happily breaks out his wallet. If leadership is the impediment, he’ll find a way to hire a legend as he did with Bill Polian and Tony Dungy.
But it’s now clear one of the current threats to his team’s success is something Irsay’s money and influence cannot address.
Because the Colts are still reportedly among the NFL teams with the lowest percentage of players fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Thursday’s rollout of policies governing virus outbreaks among unvaccinated players was a reminder that Irsay’s only recourse against this possible barrier to winning is begging and pleading.
The NFL distributed a memo to all teams Thursday, outlining how it will handle outbreaks that result in games being canceled and it significantly raises the stakes. The steps include the potential forfeit of that game by the team that sustains the outbreak, coupled with possible financial penalties for the organization and the loss of game checks for players on both teams.
The message was clear: Unvaccinated players can potentially undermine a team’s fortunes in a very tangible way.
“I go into it saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to do anything within the rules to help us win,'” Irsay said Thursday. “That’s just the kind of competitor I am. I’m very competitive and I want guys who are competitive. I want guys that are willing to pay the price for victory and step up. And this falls into that category.”
It was the boldest step yet by a league that has been taking an increasingly tougher posture as it tries to influence players to get vaccinated. The NFL has not made vaccines mandatory and is not believed to have intentions of doing so. But the newly announced measures will put renewed pressure on unvaccinated players to get immunized.
The new procedures are in addition to other strict protocols announced previously, such as daily testing, mask requirements and travel restrictions for unvaccinated players. Those policies do not apply to fully vaccinated players. The league also earlier introduced protocols that apply to teams as a whole, with those who have vaccination rates of 85 percent or higher able to enjoy relaxed protocols that will make game preparation easier throughout the week.