The first NFL training camps begin in less than six weeks and the novel coronavirus remains the ominous cloud from which the league cannot escape. There are no longer lingering concerns about understanding the coronavirus or creating widespread protocols to combat it. Now constant agitation surrounds one simple question and a series of ramifications associated with the answer.
That’s what decision makers on the NFL teams want to know. Behind them are the league’s office and the players’ union, along with a group of medical advisors who are almost begging players for a unified message. The mantra: Your best protection against COVID comes in the form of a vaccine.
Whether that will motivate players (or seemingly some assistant coaches) to get the shot is a matter of debate. It is forcing union and union medical officials to try to educate and hope that people will listen.
“I’m going to say what our players say: They’re grown men,” said Tom Mayer, the medical director of the NFL Players Association. “You give them the facts about the donkey and they’ll make a big decision.”
“We have encouraged the players to receive the vaccination from day one,” added the association’s CEO, Demoris Smith. “It’s not really a matter of my feelings. It’s a question of making sure players have access to all the information. Their ability to communicate and call me – I’ll tell them that as soon as they call me, send them to Thom Mayer, our medical advisor or one of our other specialists. But we urged the players to get the vaccine.” We urged them to make sure they make an informed decision.”
This is where the league is now on player vaccinations. It gives information and hopes for the best. It is coming from all angles. The university provided medical advice on this issue. Teams bring in specialists to talk to players and staff. The NFLPA is begging players who want the best information on vaccines to pick up the phone and call them. All in an effort to raise vaccination levels that were apparently going slower than some in the league had expected. How slow? No one is saying exactly, with neither the NFL nor the union providing specific data on vaccination levels as the league’s one-month holiday approaches next week.
Instead of hard numbers, most teams have given vague updates about their predictions. For example, Green Bay Packers employees are almost completely vaccinated – but players are not. Chicago Bears in the same boat. The entire Detroit Lions coaching staff was vaccinated, but declined to provide an update on the players’ status. The Washington soccer team was nearing a 50 percent vaccination rate among its players this week. This is a similar story for most teams. They are left to highlight progress (which usually includes coaches or staff), but provide vague details of struggles (which usually include players).
Still, the San Francisco 49ers provided a very telling picture of their COVID vaccination efforts, noting that as of this week, 53 of their 91-man roster have now been fully vaccinated and five other players are waiting for their second dose of the vaccine. . And the other 33 players? Head coach Kyle Shanahan said the goal is to get 20 more players on board within 40 days. That would illustrate the 85 percent vaccination rate that teams are seeking in hopes of easing their COVID protocols at the start of bootcamp.
As it stands, NFL franchisees have agreed to relax protocols for teams that reach the vaccination level. The exact details of this commitment and how it will affect the boot camps are still lacking. And that’s a commitment that teams want—at least in part because it can be used as a clear motivator for everyone in the franchise.
One of my NFC coaches was clear on this point, saying, “There was no announcement of difference in camp if I reached a certain threshold. I would like that to happen.”
This could be a development that should help teams make a final push in the next six weeks to the 85 per cent vaccination mark, especially when most players have had vaccines available to them for nearly two months, yet many have refused to commit to one. These remaining retards attract the efforts of the most intense teams. And with the league break approaching, this has become a daunting climb in some franchises.
As one general manager of Yahoo Sports put it: “I’ve seen where the guys say [to the media] They want more information about vaccines – which I think is a fair approach. But in terms of our employees working to inform [players] In return for them coming to us for information, we had more players asking questions about [painkiller] Toradol in the last week of what we have about vaccinations. I guess some guys don’t want to get into it frankly. So we’re working on how to solve that, how to get what they need and what we do if we can’t get to 85 percent. This will be a project for some of us for nowا [training] camp.”
When asked if that was frustrating, GM replied: “Very. But that’s life last year.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Aryan appeared to echo the same sentiments Thursday, when he indicated that the team is engaged in a special vaccination campaign for players and their families.
“There will be a long queue there now,” Ariane told reporters. “We have been very short so far. Hopefully we will have a good streak.”
Arianes said he told the players, “If you want to get back to normal, get vaccinated,” but apparently he stopped bringing a specialist to speak to the team, as did Washington coach Ron Rivera this week.
“I’m the specialist,” Arians said.
Of course, all this is shaped predictably given the functions of the league. Front offices and training staff want their teams to work as hard as possible for business and development. They see the clearest path to that as a vaccine line promising to mitigate not only infection rates but also the ongoing toll the virus can take on a player’s health in-season.
Conversely, players often take a conservative measure when it comes to their health and whether teams always have their best interests at heart. And COVID vaccines are likely to provoke more thought and caution, due to the emergency use authorization that has allowed them to bypass the FDA’s typical long-term study and approval process.
This is how you get players like Washington defensive team Montez Suit and Carolina Panthers Sam Darnold telling reporters that they are worried about the vaccine and may eventually choose to give it up entirely.
“I’m not a big fan of it,” Sweat said this week. “I probably won’t get vaccinated until I get more facts and that stuff. I’m not a fan of it at all. … I haven’t had COVID yet so I don’t see that I’m treating for COVID until I actually have COVID.”
Darnold formulated his intentions further, but also said he was not committed to vaccination.
“I keep thinking about all those specific things that go into it,” he said. “Again, everyone’s choice is whether or not they want to be vaccinated. So, that’s really all I got. I don’t want to go into details.”
Whether Darnold, Sweat, or a host of other disabled people get the information they’re looking for between now and the start of bootcamp remains to be seen. But it’s clear that the league’s franchises, guilds, and individuals will continue to advance their efforts.
As the union’s chief medical officer said, each is trying to persuade adult men to take hard decisions, all in the hope of putting COVID-19 as far away in the rear-view mirror as possible.
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