The NFL needs to get its act together with vaccinations


As we approach NFL training camps, a common question for players has been their vaccination status. Despite overwhelming resources and motivation to prevent illness, players are still avoiding getting vaccinated at alarming rates.

On Wednesday, two players, Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold and Washington defensive end Montez Sweat, both positioned themselves as being anti-vaccination through either inaction or outwardly disagreeing with the process. Darnold, largely non-commital on receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, said he was “still evaluating the situation.” Meanwhile, Sweat said he “wasn’t a fan” of the vaccine — even after Washington brought an infectious disease expert to speak to players.

“I haven’t caught Covid yet,” Sweat said, “so I don’t see me treating Covid until I actually get COVID.”

Both players used a similar refrain: They needed to know more. At this point, it is a laughable justification for not receiving the Covid-19 vaccine that’s more couched in conspiracy theory and ignorance than science. Scientists and public health experts worldwide have declared the suite of vaccines safe. Clinical trials before the release of vaccines showed their efficacy. We’re now six months into the largest sample of a newly-released vaccine in human history, with a number of side effects so minute in comparison they fall into the range of statistical insignificance.

At this point saying “I need to know more” isn’t a mark of an intelligent, scrupulous approach — but an ignorant one. The only true unknown at this point is how much damage will be caused to society by people not getting vaccinated out of fear or a misguided belief they’re taking some sort of political stand by refusing to protect themselves and others. It’s been established that it’s highly unlikely Covid-19 will be completely eliminated by vaccination alone at this point, more likely becoming endemic requiring periodic shots, similar to the flu shot. However, the more people who refuse to get vaccinated, the more opportunity the virus has to spread — increasing the potential for mutation.

As it stands there are a variety of strains of Covid-19, with the most dangerous being the Delta strain, which has mutated out of India following the country’s outbreak. Current vaccinations are expected to protect against the mutated strains, according to the World Health Organization, but with large numbers of people refusing to get vaccinated it creates a petrie dish for the virus to survive, thrive, spread and potentially mutate in ways current vaccines do not protect against.

So any argument that this is a “personal decision” is moot. In isolation, one person refusing to get vaccinated only puts themselves at risk, but when 50 percent of the population decides not to get vaccinated, they put everyone at risk. Darnold and Sweat, both in positions of notoriety and influence essentially endorse the anti-vaccination movement when they say they “need to learn more.”

It’s curious that two NFL players would be so against getting injections. After all, this is a league where shooting players up with copious amounts of the painkiller Toradol in order to have them play through pain is one of the most common treatments seen in any locker room at halftime. A drug with known risk and side effects so great that former defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth credited the over-use of Toradol as a reason he needed a kidney transplant in his 30s. A drug that the NFL is now urging teams to limit, because it’s been abused to the point of becoming a danger to players.

Maybe Darnold and Sweat have refused to ever get a Toradol shot in the locker room. I’d wager that most of their peers haven’t.

While Washington are bringing in health experts to try and convince players not to be dumb and get vaccinated, and the Panthers are taking a passive approach and turning this into personal choice — at least one NFL coach is being a voice of reason.

Sadly, Arians’ stand is a voice far too quiet across the world of sport. Far more coaches and officials would rather not rock the boat than call this for what it is: Utter selfishness and stupidity. It was stupid when LeBron James won’t say if he got vaccinated while playing in a league where Karl-Anthony Towns’ mother died, and Jayson Tatum still needs an inhaler months after contracting the disease in order to play. It’s stupid now for NFL players to give credence to anti-vaxxers by suggesting there’s more to learn.

Washington coach Ron Rivera said the team’s coaching staff and front office has reached 100 percent vaccination, but players are lagging behind at “approaching 50 percent.” Prompting the team feeling like it needed to bring in an expert to discuss with players, but even then Sweat felt his knowledge of viral and infectious disease as a football player was greater than that of a Harvard-educated virologist.

What we need, in all sports, is further intervention to protect players from themselves. The NFL and NFLPA agreed to institute concussion protocols to avoid players from re-entering games with traumatic head injury and risk life-altering debilitation. The same needs to happen with Covid. Teams get to make any number of medical decisions to players, it’s an accepted part of the process.

Now the NFL and NFLPA need to intervene, and say if players are willing to make their personal choice not to get vaccinated, they’re also making a personal choice not to play until they do.





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