The first NFL training camps begin in less than six weeks, and COVID-19 remains the looming cloud the league cannot escape. The lingering concerns are no longer about understanding the coronavirus or establishing far-reaching protocols to combat it. Now, the lingering turmoil surrounds a simple question and the litany of ramifications associated with the answer.
That’s what the makers of the NFL teams want to know. And behind them are the league office and players union, along with a group of medical advisers who are almost begging the players to listen to a unified message. The mantra: Your best protection against COVID comes in the form of a vaccine.
Whether this will motivate players (or apparently some assistant coaches, for that matter) to shoot is a matter of debate. It forces medical officials in the league and the union to try to educate and hope that people are listening.
“I’m going to say what our players say: they’re adult males,” said Thom Mayer, chief medical officer of the NFL Players Association. “You give them the adult facts and they’ll make an adult decision.”
“We have encouraged players to get vaccinated from day one,” added union executive director DeMaurice Smith. “It’s not really a question of feelings. This is to make sure that the players have access to all the information. Their ability to reach out and call me – I will tell them that immediately after calling me I send them to Thom Mayer, our medical adviser or one of our other specialists. But we urged players to get vaccinated. We urged them to make sure they are simply making an informed decision. “
This is basically where the league stands when it comes to player vaccinations. It is offering information and hoping for the best. And it comes from all corners. The league has offered medical advice on the matter. The teams bring in specialists to talk to the players and staff. The NFLPA is begging players who want the best vaccine information to pick up the phone and call them. All in an effort to boost vaccination levels which apparently went at a slower pace than some in the league expected. How much more slowly? No one is saying exactly, with neither the NFL nor the union providing specific data on immunization levels as the league’s month-long hiatus approaches next week.
Instead of specific numbers, most teams gave vague updates on their outlook. The staff of the Green Bay Packers are almost fully vaccinated, for example, but not the players. The Chicago Bears are in the same boat. The Detroit Lions coaching staff have been fully vaccinated, but have declined to give an update on the status of the players. The Washington football team was approaching a 50% vaccination rate among players this week. It’s a similar story for most teams. They have been left to highlight progress (which typically involves coaches or staff), but provide vague details of struggles (which typically involve players).
The San Francisco 49ers, however, provided a very revealing picture of their own COVID vaccination efforts, stating that as of this week 53 of their list of 91 men are now fully vaccinated and five more players are awaiting their second dose. vaccine. What about the other 33 players? Head coach Kyle Shanahan said the goal is to sign 20 more players over the next 40 days. That would wipe out the 85% vaccination rate that teams are aiming for in hopes of relaxing their COVID protocols at the start of training camp.
As it stands, NFL franchise owners have agreed to relax protocols for teams that meet a vaccination standard. The fine details of this engagement and its impact on the training camps are still not in place. And it’s a commitment that teams want – at least in part because it can be used as a clear motivational point for everyone in the franchise.
An NFC head coach was clear on this, saying, “There hasn’t been a statement of difference in the camp if you hit a certain threshold. I would like that to happen.
It could be a development that would help teams make a definitive effort over the next six weeks to hit their 85 percent vaccination rate, especially when most players have had vaccines for almost two months and yet, many refused to sign up for one. These last refractories attract the most intense efforts of the teams. And before the league break, it becomes a tough climb in some franchises.
As a general manager said at Yahoo Sports: “I saw where the guys say [to the media] that they want more information on vaccines – which I think is a fair approach. But in terms of our staff who work to inform [players] against them who asked us for information, we had more players who asked about [painkiller] Toradol in the last week we have on vaccines. I think some guys don’t want to commit to this, honestly. So we’re working on how to fix this, how to get them what they need, and what to do if we can’t reach that 85%. This is going to be a project for some of us until [training] camp.”
When asked if it was frustrating, the General Manager replied, “Very. But that’s the life of last year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians appeared to echo a similar sentiment on Thursday when he noted the team were on their own vaccination campaign for players and their families.
“There is going to be a long line there right now,” Arians told reporters. “We were pretty short until now. Hope we have a pretty good line.
Arians said he told players, ‘If you want to get back to normal, get the shot,’ but apparently didn’t bring in a specialist to speak to the team, as Washington did this week, Coach Ron Rivera.
“I am the specialist,” Arians said.
Of course, this all looms predictably given the functionality of the league. Reception offices and coaching teams want their teams to function to the maximum of their work and development capacities. And they see the clearest path to that being a line of vaccines that promise to alleviate not only infection rates, but also the lingering toll the virus can have on a player’s health over the course of a lifetime. season.
Conversely, players often take cautious action when it comes to their health and whether teams still have their best interests. And COVID vaccines are likely to provoke even more thought and mistrust, due to the emergency use clearance that allowed them to bypass the typical FDA lengthy review and approval process.
This is how players like Washington defensive end Montez Sweat and Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold tell reporters they are wary of the vaccine and may ultimately choose to forgo it altogether.
“I’m not a fan of it,” Sweat said this week. “I probably won’t get the vaccine until I have more facts and stuff like that. I’m not a fan of it at all. … I haven’t caught COVID yet, so I don’t see myself dealing with COVID until I actually get COVID. “
Darnold has further expressed his intentions, but also said he is not determined to get the shot.
“I still have to think about all of these things that come into play,” he said. “Again, it’s up to everyone to decide if they want to be vaccinated or not. So, that’s really all I have on this. I don’t want to go into too much detail.
It remains to be seen whether Darnold, Sweat, or a slew of other holdouts get the information they’re looking for by the time training camp begins. But it’s clear that the league, union and individual franchises will continue to push their efforts forward.
As the union’s top doctor has said, each trying to get adult men to make adult decisions, all in the hopes of putting COVID-19 as far in the rearview mirror as possible.
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