Message is clear for Tennessee Titans and SEC football teams: Vaccinations are key to victory | Estes
I ever tell you about the first time I was tested for COVID-19?
That’s because it just happened.
Early Monday morning, in a hallway inside the players’ entrance at Tennessee Titans headquarters, a woman circled a Q-tip in my nostrils for a few seconds and then sent me on my way.
I’m fortunate to have gone this long without needing to be tested. For a long time, I was careful. Never felt sick, knock on wood, and I’ve been fully vaccinated for a while.
Even though I am vaccinated, media policies in place for NFL training camps mean that — in order to cover the Titans in person — I’ll need to be regularly tested. That’s in addition to being vaccinated.
I don’t mind one bit. In fact, I like that the Titans are doing it.
If you play sports professionally, you should get vaccinated, even if you'd rather not. Many jobs require vaccines, and they don't pay nearly as well as the NFL. Plus, it's just selfish to put your teammates' health and seasons at risk.
Can't fault the NFL and NFLPA for trying to keep players safe. To do that, they are clearly pushing players to be vaccinated.
The league's protocols are much less restrictive for those players. They don’t have to wear masks in the facility. If a vaccinated player or staff member tests positive (yes, I do realize that is happening), they can return to duty after two negative tests. An unvaccinated player would face mandatory 10-day isolation.
A vaccinated player also wouldn’t have to quarantine after close contact with an infected person. That one is real important, even if the worst-case scenario doesn't happen, and an NFL team has to forfeit a game over an outbreak among unvaccinated players.
Some NFL players don't like all this.
It's one thing to keep hearing Cole Beasley speak out against vaccination. But it's far from being just him. When perhaps the NFL’s best receiver — DeAndre Hopkins — issues a since-deleted tweet stating that “being put in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future,” that’ll get plenty of attention.
Why doesn't Hopkins want to take the vaccine? No idea. Each person has personal reasons, and they often aren’t as political as you’d think.
Here in Tennessee, I do find that the anti-vaccine mentality has seemed to typically take the form of “I don’t need it,” which is usually associated with the popular, "COVID was an overblown liberal hoax.”
And so I have to wonder, here in SEC country, how ugly it’ll get if a COVID forfeit does happen in one of these football-crazy states. Pretty ugly, I’d think, judging by the angry tenor of messages I received about NC State being ousted by an outbreak at the College World Series. Vigorous disagreement is healthy in our society, and that's fine.
Plus, the expectation for vaccinations should be different for college athletes versus pros.
It does bother me, though, when vaccination is presented as some debate, as if there are two worthy sides to a life-saving vaccine saving us from a global pandemic.
Multiple SEC coaches at the league’s media days last week said that medical professionals have spoken to their players and explained the “pros and cons” of vaccination.
Oh, really? Tell me, doctor, what are the cons?
For college coaches, it’s a tough line to walk. They should respect a player's choice, but they have a lot of skin in this game. They obviously want players to be vaccinated. It’s safer for everyone in a team's locker room, but more so, these coaches are paid handsomely to win — and vaccination levels have become a competitive advantage or disadvantage.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart, to his credit, admitted as much. He also said his Bulldogs were “over 85%” vaccinated. That’s pretty good, considering last week only six SEC schools (out of 14) had reached 80% vaccination, per commissioner Greg Sankey.
Private school Vanderbilt figures to be one of the six, as it is requiring all students to be vaccinated (haven't heard much outcry over that at Vandy, by the way). Tennessee's football program was one of the eight below 80%.
Of the two SEC football programs in Alabama, one claimed a vaccination rate “pretty close to 90%,” according to its coach. The other was said to be “in that 60% range.”
Guess which program had which percentage.
Of course, Nick Saban’s Alabama was at 90%. Auburn was the 60%, with its new coach Bryan Harsin insisting “our guys are taking it seriously.”
Nah, Alabama’s guys are taking it seriously. They usually do in Tuscaloosa when it comes to things that win or lose games. They certainly did last season, which is how the Crimson Tide won a national championship while many other teams could barely fend off COVID-19 and contact tracing enough to be able to play.
Saban can't demand Alabama's players get vaccinated. He did, however, put it to them like this: "You also have a competitive decision to make because you're going to be a part of a team. So how does the personal choice and decision you make affect the team? ... Players have to understand that you are putting your teammates in a circumstance and situation."
I hope it doesn't come to that.
I hope no teams, college or pro, have to forfeit because of COVID-19 cases — or are so depleted as to not have a chance to compete.
But when it comes to this hideous virus, I'm tired of hoping and worrying.
That's why I got the vaccine.
Reach Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.