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‘Valentine’s Views’: Vaccine should be a no-brainer for NFL players, but it obviously is not

It is a personal decision, but what is the down side?

A National Health Service (NHS) staff holds a vial... Photo by Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Giants head coach Joe Judge and his players spent the spring deflecting whenever they were asked about the COVID-19 vaccine.

When asked if he expected the majority of the players to be vaccinated by training camp, Judge said he “couldn’t give you an answer to that.” Judge added that “Everyone has a choice to make” and that “I’m not getting involved in that.”

Yes, whether or not to be vaccinated is a personal choice. I find it odd, though, that Judge would tell the public he was “not getting involved” in whether his players received the vaccine. Judge is involved with EVERYTHING to do with the Giants football team, and like it or not being vaccinated will make preparing for and playing through the football season easier for everyone involved.

Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera was concerned enough about the paucity of WFT players who had been vaccinated that earlier this month he had a vaccine scientist come in and speak to his team.

“There’s a lot of messaging out there, they get it off of Twitter and some of it is good, some of it is bad. I’m not sure these guys watch the news as much as I do and try to gather enough information, but we are really trying to help them, because if we can get to that herd immunity, we can really cut it loose and really be able to spend time with each other.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians told players point-blank “If you want to go back to normal, get vaccinated.”

In April, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to modified COVID-19 protocols for vaccinated players. Those revised protocols read:

Effective immediately, fully vaccinated individuals are required to test on a weekly basis rather than daily, will no longer have to quarantine if identified as a “High Risk Close Contact” and do not have to submit to “entry” testing following travel. ...

Fully vaccinated players, along with other tiered staff and coaches, will continue to be required to wear masks and tracking devices while within team facilities.

A league memo also encouraged teams to provide vaccine education, such as what Rivera did for Washington.

“All clubs should continue their efforts to educate about available vaccines to maximize vaccine acceptance among their staffs, players, and family members,” the memo read in part. “Each club should make the vaccine easily and conveniently available through a ‘Vaccination Day’ or other program, and we will continue to work with the joint NFL-NFLPA committee to develop additional educational material that communicates the benefits of the vaccine to players, staff and families. All clubs are participating in this effort.”

There is also this that came out just as I was about push “publish” on this post:

I understand that the COVID-19 vaccine, and everything about COVID-19 is divisive in America in the current climate. Shoot, everything you can have an opinion on is divisive and is sure to elicit an angry response from someone. That’s why you will not be able to comment on this post. Which, I’m sure is a decision some will agree with and others will be angered by.

Right now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 64.6 percent of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine dose and that 43.9 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. The fact that those percentages aren’t higher for a disease that has killed nearly 600,000 Americans and affected millions more is simply an example of the bitter divisions in the U.S. right now.

CDC data shows rare incidents of adverse effects from any of the approved COVID-19 vaccinations.

Back, though, to football. And to the Giants.

I simply don’t understand the down side of vaccination for an NFL player. One day of possibly feeling awful makes their lives easier. It allows them to test less frequently and to move about their team facilities more freely.

More importantly, in my view, being vaccinated also makes them better teammates.

The vaccine not only protects a player and his teammates, it could well end up making a player more available to actually play during the upcoming 17-game season. Shouldn’t the availability to play be paramount any decision a player makes?

Players spend most of their offseasons working on their bodies, trying to be the best they can be to both perform and prevent injuries whenever possible. They spend lots of effort, through the NFLPA, lobbying for lightened practice conditions to, their argument goes, prevent injury and make them healthier and more available for the games.

Yet, many seem reluctant to do this one thing that could make the difference as to whether or not they are available for games that could be critical to their seasons, and to the future employment of teammates, coaches and front-office staffers within their organization.

Giants cornerback James Bradberry missed a critical late-season game last season when he went outside the organization for a massage and wound up as a high-risk close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Yet, this was Bradberry’s response when asked during mini-camp about vaccination:

“I haven’t talked to any of the guys on the team about the vaccination. Of course that’s a personal issue. Those guys can make the decision that’s best for them. I’m still trying to get all the information on the vaccinations and stuff so I can make a decision,” Bradberry said. “Of course I don’t want to miss any games, might miss — as far as injury or other, COVID.”

Bradberry was pressed on the reality that the vaccine would prevent him from missing a game if he were a close contact of a COVID-19 positive person.

“It sure would. I have to get all the information. Still got to make a personal decision. This will be a personal decision for me,” Bradberry said. “I haven’t come up with the answers for that yet.”

Judge talks a lot about the importance of “team first.” I don’t know how any player who doesn’t get vaccinated and then misses time during the season — when there was a simple way they could have made themselves available to play — can say they are being a good teammate or putting their team first.

I also don’t understand the “I have to get all the information” argument. Not at this point. Not from an NFL player who has access to more medical resources and information than most of us.

Thanks to excellent reporting by Mark Maske of The Washington Post, we know that as of a couple of days ago more than 50 percent of NFL players on 90-man rosters have been vaccinated.

Per Maske’s report, half the teams in the league have at least 50 vaccinated players and three have more than 70 who are vaccinated. The Giants are NOT listed by Maske as one of the teams struggling to get players to receive the vaccine.

“We’ve urged players to get the vaccine,” DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA, said last week. “We’ve urged them to just make sure that they just make a decision that’s informed.” ...

“We’re a microcosm of our country, right? … There’s wide disparities in our country between where some people are getting vaccinated and why some people haven’t,” Smith said in a video conference with reporters. “Look, I think the only thing that we can do is make sure that all of our players have all of the information. … Nobody should not have all the information that they want. … I don’t think the country is in a place right now where we lack the information. I think the country is in a place right now where people are asking whether they trust the information and whether the information is sufficient to deal with any other issue they may have.”

Maske’s reporting pointed to a tweet by former Raiders executive Amy Trask:

My prediction: when unvaccinated players get to camp and see that their vaccinated teammates don’t have to wear masks, can eat in the dining area, can hang out in the weight room, etc., many players who weren’t going to get vaccinated will do so - incentives are very compelling.

Job security is also an incentive. Someone like Bradberry, or other vaccine skeptics like Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold or Washington Football Team edge defender Montez Sweat, are not going to face loss of employment if they choose not to be vaccinated.

Someone trying to hang on to a 53rd spot on a roster or just praying for a spot on a practice squad, though?

Answering a mailbag question for Sports Illustrated, former sports agent Andrew Brandt offered a dose of reality when it comes to players choosing not to be vaccinated:

This is one of those situations, and there are many in the business of sports, where there is theory and there is reality. In theory, all players should be treated equally regardless of whether they choose to vaccinate. In reality, not being vaccinated gives NFL teams an easy excuse — one, of course, that they would never say out loud — to release a player. If a team is deciding between two players for one spot, with one vaccinated and the other not, you can figure out who is making the team.

Two players who recently spoke with hesitancy about the vaccine, Washington’s [Montez] Sweat and the Panthers Sam Darnold, can do so without career repercussions at the moment; their roster spots are secure. For hundreds of other players, however, vaccine hesitancy puts the players at employment risk. It is the business of the NFL: So many players, so few jobs.

Right now, as Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports wrote, the league is “offering information and hoping for the best.”

Obviously, whether to be vaccinated or not is a personal choice. I simply don’t understand why an NFL player whose actions impact so many others and who generally does just about anything else humanly possible to make sure his body is functioning at its utmost capacity, wouldn’t do this.