NFL’s high vaccination rate says a few things about league


Have you heard the NFL’s unofficial slogans for the coming season?

“Roll up your sleeve.”

“Get the jab.”

“First the vax, then the sacks.”

When the football league kicks off its season Sept. 9 in Tampa, at least 93 percent of its players and 99 percent of its coaches will have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to the league’s top doctor, Allen Sills. In comparison, 54.4 percent of eligible Americans are fully vaccinated and 72.2 percent have received one dose, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The NFL, as everyone in San Diego should know by now, is all about the dollar.

The pandemic sliced ​​about $4 billion off league revenues last year, Forbes estimated, but the NFL still managed to play all of its games and negotiate huge financial gains in media rights fees going forward.

Though the league and its union haven’t mandated vaccines, they’ve turned up the heat under unvaccinated players. And Tuesday, the vaccine push received a booster shot when the New England Patriots cut quarterback Cam Newton, their presumptive, if past-his-prime, starter and a former MVP, a week after his unvaccinated status contributed to him having to miss four practices.

Perhaps Newton was in fact outplayed this summer by Mac Jones, the rookie who now assumes the starting job (and apparently is vaccinated). But where its unvaccinated players are concerned, this is growing more clear: The NFL has created significant risk and hassle for them and for the teams that employ them.

Newton had to isolate from the team last week, after a misunderstanding over off-site testing protocol for unvaccinated players on their days off.

Confirming the obvious, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said missed practices due to a quarterback’s readiness and benefit the team’s other quarterbacks, in this case, Jones and veteran backup Brian Hoyer.

Newton can sign with another team. Getting the jab would help him stick around, implied former NFL coach Tony Dungy. “It will be a big factor,” Dungy said Tuesday, on Twitter, of unvaccinated players competing for jobs against vaccinated players. “Nonvaccinated players will be at much greater risk to miss time even if they never get the virus. … Teams will be hesitant to pick up players who have not been vaccinated.”

Unvaccinated players must continue to get daily tests, while their vaccinated teammates go two weeks between tests.

If unvaccinated players don’t wear masks, they risk heavy fines. Big Brother is watching. After Bills personnel spotted them without their masks last week, receiver Cole Beasley and Isaiah McKenzie each were fined about $14,600.

A few days later, McKenzie apparently got vaccinated. On social media, I displayed a vaccine card and the caption “for the greater good.”

Unvaccinated players can’t eat meals with teammates, use the sauna or steam room, and may not leave the team hotel or interact with people outside the sauna or steam room.

A competitive advantage may accrue to the teams with the highest vaccination rates, headed by the Atlanta Falcons (100 percent) and the Seattle Seahawks (99 percent).

(Beyond the football field, the Falcons’ perfect vaccination could be a conversation starter in what is a low-vaccination state, where 41 percent of eligible Georgia residents are fully vaccinated and 50 percent have received one dose.)

Perhaps the riskiest football-COVID situations involve the Indianapolis Colts, the Minnesota Vikings, the Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens, given their starting quarterbacks have been identified as unvaccinated.

For team owners and head coaches, it’s a challenge to balance the player’s right to decline the vaccine with the team’s attempts to avoid disruptions. Giving team management more reason to fret, the NFL has raised stakes this year: If a game is postponed by a COVID outbreak on one team and that game can’t be rescheduled, the team with the outbreak will forfeit.

Former San Diego Chargers defensive coach Ron Rivera, now Washington’s head coach, has been outspoken in pushing for players to get vaccinated. “It’s befuddling when you have a chance to have your freedom and you’re not taking advantage of it because of one reason or another,” he said this summer, “and to me, to not take advantage of it is because of disinformation. ”

Colts head coach Frank Reich, who served at Chargers Park for three seasons under Mike McCoy, acknowledged his team’s relatively low vaccination rate — about 75 percent — poses increased risk for disruption as the season draws close.

An ordained Christian minister, Reich said he takes a patient approach with his unvaccinated players.

“I do try to listen, and respect (them),” the coach said Tuesday, per The Athletic, which reported quarterback Carson Wentz and about half of the offense’s starters are unvaccinated. “But I also don’t shy away from saying what I believe is right — the research that I’ve done. I don’t hesitate to say what I think is best for the team.”

In linking vaccination to the Super Bowl pursuit, Colts owner Jim Irsay said: “You have to make choices and you have to decide: Am I in this to win a championship and what price am I willing to pay? That’s what it really comes down to.”

A broader pro-vaccination pitch came from Jerry Jones.

“Everyone has a right to make their own decisions regarding their health and their body. I believe in that completely — until your decision as to yourself negatively impacts many others. Then the common good takes over,” Jones told Dallas radio station 105.3 The Fan.

“And I’m arm waving here, but that has everything to do with the way I look at our team, the Cowboys, or the way I look at our society,” said Jones, whose team will face the Super Bowl-champion Bucs in the NFL’s opener. “We have got to check `’I’ at the door and go forward with ‘we.’ Your Dallas Cowboys are doing that.”

The man is a colorful character. But sometimes, power speaks truth.