Roger Goodell Expects NFL Teams to Play in Front of Full Stadiums During 2021 Season

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJuly 31, 2021

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell talks to the crowd at the start of the first round of the NFL football draft Thursday, April 29, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer)
AP Photo/David Dermer

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Saturday the league office expects "full stadiums" for the 2021 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Goodell also discussed the vaccination rates around the NFL and whether he's confident the league can avoid coronavirus-related postponements like those during the 2020 campaign in an interview with the NFL Network's Judy Battista:

Tom Pelissero @TomPelissero

In an interview with <a href="https://twitter.com/judybattista?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@judybattista</a> on <a href="https://twitter.com/nflnetwork?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@nflnetwork</a>, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated the league expects to have full stadiums this season. “The fans want to come back. That’s the No. 1 thing we hear.” <a href="https://t.co/U99ajYFF5g">pic.twitter.com/U99ajYFF5g</a>

Although the NFL hasn't required players to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in order to play in 2021, the league has taken a strong stance in favor of vaccination through its words and actions.

Most notably, Goodell sent a memo to the league's 32 franchises last week that alerted teams they would face significant financial penalties if a game is canceled because of a COVID-19 outbreak involving unvaccinated players and informed players that members of both teams wouldn't be paid their weekly game check if a contest can't be completed because of COVID-19 reasons. The memo added:

"We know that vaccines are safe and effective, and are the best step anyone can take to be safe from the coronavirus. The vaccines continue to provide strong immunity against variants of the coronavirus, including the Delta variant. Even with recent increases, new cases remain far below the peak levels of earlier this year. Both the CDC and major hospital systems throughout the country have reported 97 percent or more of the new cases and virtually all hospitalizations are seen in unvaccinated individuals. While there have been 'breakthrough' infections—cases where a vaccinated individual has been infected—those cases tend to be mild and people recover from the infection relatively quickly."

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said Wednesday he wasn't originally planning to get vaccinated, but his stance changed based on the NFL's rules.

"I wouldn't have gotten the vaccine without the protocols they're enforcing on us," Tannehill told reporters. "I think it's a personal decision for everyone. Everyone has to make the best decision for them and their families. That's kind of our mindset in this building. But they're trying to force your hand, and they ultimately have forced a lot of hands."

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley, one of the most vocal critics of the NFL's guidelines, said in a statement Wednesday he was speaking out for players with less tenure or those on a roster's fringe who couldn't afford to voice their opinion:

Buffalo Bills @BuffaloBills

A statement from WR Cole Beasley: <a href="https://t.co/MWNEHC9Dgv">pic.twitter.com/MWNEHC9Dgv</a>

The latest numbers from the NFL show 85 percent of players have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot, with 14 teams having surpassed the 90 percent threshold.

Goodell noted in his interview with Battista the league is "following science" and would make decisions it hopes will lead to "limited disruptions" to the 2021 campaign.

The preseason is scheduled to kick off Thursday when the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers play in the Hall of Fame Game. The regular season, which has been increased to 17 contests per team for the first time, is slated to begin Sept. 9 when the Cowboys visit the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.