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By Amy Tennery

(Reuters) – The Detroit Lions became the fourth National Football League team to opt out of in-person voluntary workouts, citing concerns over COVID-19, as a rift emerged between the league and its players’ union over off-season protocols.

The Lions joined the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who said this week that they would not participate in the workouts, a year after the NFL took its off-season to a “virtual” up until training camp, as the deadly pandemic ripped through the United States.

“With the voluntary workout period starting shortly and no acceptable resolution to our union’s negotiations with the NFL over comprehensive COVID-19 protocols, we will be exercising our (Collective Bargaining Agreement) right to not attend,” the Lions players said in a statement released through the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA).

The NFLPA said that teams had been “pressuring players” to participate in the voluntary workouts, which it has advised its members not to attend.

The NFL did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The daily cases of COVID-19 are higher now than last March when we decided that we were going to conduct off-season much differently,” NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said in a video posted to social media.

“From the players’ perspective the goal remains the same: How do we conduct NFL football in the safest possible way with a goal of not just starting the season but more importantly a goal of getting through the entire season.”

The league last year scrapped all pre-season games and instituted an array of safety measures designed to mitigate the risk of the novel coronavirus, conducting its draft virtually and mandating regular COVID testing for players, coaches and staff.

The NFL’s chief medical officer, Allan Sills, said last month that while he hopes players and staff will get the COVID-19 vaccine, the league would not require it.

(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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