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Opinion: COVID-19 vaccines a hot topic among NFL players

A year removed from the first COVID-19 disrupted season, the NFL is still facing difficulties due to the virus
Cole Beasley - Timothy Ludwig:gettyimages.ca
Buffalo Bills' wideout Cole Beasley has been among the most outspoken players against the COVID-19 vaccine.

The NFL season kicked off with a bang last Thursday with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers edging out the Dallas cowboys 31-29 in what could go down as one of the best games of the year when the season is all said and done. And after the weird 2020 season, which saw mostly empty stadiums and games being postponed and rescheduled all season, it was nice to see a great game in front of a sold-out crowd again—although I would have preferred most of those Buccs fans being vaccinated first.

But with COVID-19 still hanging around, and the Delta variant posing even greater risks than the original strain of the virus, it begs the question: how should the NFL handle COVID-19 this season?

Obviously, the NFL is encouraging its players to get vaccinated and have implemented harsher rules this year to incentivize that, like games being forfeited if a team outbreak doesn’t allow them to play, players from both teams not getting paid if a game gets cancelled, and a 10-day isolation period for unvaccinated players who are exposed to the virus versus just needing two negative tests in 24-hours for vaccinated players.

The NFL was even pushing for mandatory vaccinations among players but couldn’t get the NFL Players Association to sign off on it.

However, despite the harsher rules for a team outbreak this year, there are still players willing to put their team’s success and their teammates’ health on the line to hold their ground on the vaccine issue. I can’t say I’m surprised though, as we’ve been seeing the same thing here in Canada where the small minority of anti-vaxxers seem to always be speaking the loudest.

For God’s sake, people in Alberta are giving up their season tickets to NHL games and hosting jersey-burning parties because the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers announced that fans need to be vaccinated to attend games. Seems excessive.

People—including pro athletes—are passionate about this topic, but seem unwilling to acknowledge that it’s not the same situation we were in last year. That old belief that young, healthy individuals will be fine if they contract the virus isn’t necessarily the case anymore with the Delta variant.

Just take 27-year-old Buffalo Bills offensive tackle, Dion Dawkins, for example. He caught the Delta variant and was quoted saying there were times where he wasn’t sure if he was going to make it out of the hospital.

That’s a young athlete in peak physical condition saying those things. That’s scary. And you’d think it would be enough to convince players to get the shot, if not to avoid that scenario themselves then to avoid putting a friend and teammate in that same situation.

But the Washington football team is proving that even the possibility of killing someone isn’t enough of a reason for some people to get the shot. The team’s head coach, Ron Rivera, is immunocompromised due to being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. And even though he is double vaccinated, there’s no telling what might happen if he catches the virus. And his team is still among the lowest vaccinated teams in the league.

Or take Bills’ wide receiver Cole Beasley, who has been among the most outspoken NFL players against the vaccine. In a statement he made a few months ago, Beasley said: “I may die of COVID, but I’d rather die actually living,” as if getting the vaccine would take away his ability to live, when in reality the opposite is more likely.

“I have family members whose days are numbered. If they want to come see me and stay at my house then they are coming regardless of protocol … That is MY CHOICE,” he continued in the statement.

He would rather put his own family at risk than do something that could help the entire continent move on from this pandemic altogether. That’s as selfish as it comes, in my book.

And he’s not the only one. The NFL has a 93 per cent vaccination rate, which is pretty good, all things considered, but still leaves about 120 unvaccinated players league wide.

The ultimate irony is, how many times have we heard an athlete, any athlete, say that they will do whatever it takes to win? Thousands of times, maybe hundreds of thousands of times and nearly every pro athlete too.

And now here we are, with legitimate potential penalties for outbreaks of the virus in place, and a simple solution to it, and I guess players forgot they’d do anything to win.

If people, in the NFL or otherwise, actually cared about anything (teammates, families, winning) other than themselves, COVID-19 vaccination would be a non-issue at this point. But selfishness is the real pandemic. It was here long before COVID-19 came and will be here long after it’s gone, which is why I am all for the sports leagues having mandatory vaccinations for players. And if they’d rather retire than follow the rules, good riddance—the game won’t miss you.