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Column: NFL players who won’t get vaccinated should get flagged for recklessness

Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins flips the football away after making a catch.
Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins has questioned his place in the NFL if getting vaccinated is mandatory against a player’s will.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

The serious tweet was the silliest of threats.

It was Arizona’s five-time Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins standing up for his right to be dumb.

“Never thought I would say this, But being in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the @nfl.”

The tweet was later deleted but still … Hopkins was saying he doesn’t want to partake in a potentially life-saving medical procedure that would safeguard his family, teammates and community? Fine. His future belongs somewhere else other than in the NFL.

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Then there was the tweet from the Rams’ league-best cornerback Jalen Ramsey offering support for foolishness.

“I know 2 people right now who got the vaccine but are covid positive…I’m just saying..I wouldn’t look at a teammate as bad if he don’t get the vax, no pressure 5.”

Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey breaks up a pass intended for Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey breaks up a pass intended for Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins during a game in January.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Wrong again. There should be plenty of pressure. Teammates who don’t get the COVID-19 vaccine aren’t just bad, they’re selfish and misguided and dangerous.

As NFL training camps begin this week, our new national pastime is teetering on becoming a national disgrace.

The league reports that at least 75% of its players are at least partially vaccinated. This is higher than the 57% vaccination rate of all Americans over the age of 12, but there is such variance that five teams have rates below 70%, and the league lags behind the other major sports.

These numbers are troubling enough that the NFL is taking punitive action with a series of rules revealed last week, and good for them.

Unvaccinated players will be subject to strict protocols that will separate them from the team, with those players facing a $14,650 fine for each time they break those protocols.

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If a team suffers a COVID-19 outbreak that causes the cancellation of a game, then the team will not be paid for that game, meaning unvaccinated players could be taking money out of that team’s pockets.

In addition, a vaccine is required for all team staff members, an edict that has already led to two teams parting ways with coaches.

Rick Dennison, the Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach and run-game coordinator for the NFL’s fifth-ranked running attack, was reportedly bounced. So, too, was Cole Popovich, co-offensive line coach for the New England Patriots.

Don’t feel bad for either guy. It was their choice. Also don’t feel bad for the players, even as Las Vegas running back Jalen Richard is tweeting, “We playing in jail this year.”

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The Rams have many roster questions that must be answered as training camp practices begin Wednesday, including who will replace injured running back Cam Akers.

No, it’s not jail, it’s a lingering pandemic fueled by the Delta variant, and if they’re not going to protect themselves with the science, then they’re a threat to themselves and a potential health hazard to everyone else.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 99.5% of COVID deaths over the last six months occurred in unvaccinated people, and 97% entering hospitals are unvaccinated.

”There’s no scientific reason to avoid getting vaccinated,” said Anne Rimoin, a UCLA epidemiologist.

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She noted that the NFL has every right, and every reason, to punish those who make that choice.

“Businesses, and the NFL is a business, are going to have to make important decisions about what their risk threshold is, what they’re willing to tolerate, and unvaccinated people are at increased risk to everyone else,” she said. “This Delta variant has upped the game. People shed so much virus, even with good vaccines, they’re not 100% perfect, so you’ll see unvaccinated infecting the vaccinated.”

In other words, contrary to what some players believe, an unvaccinated teammate is a lousy teammate.

“If you have all these unvaccinated people most likely to get infected, it will impact everybody else on the team,” Rimoin said. “While there’s no ‘I’ in team, there is potential for infection among that team.”

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In coming days, as players begin congregating in locker rooms around the country, there will be plenty of chatter about this subject, including locally. A month ago the Chargers were reportedly one of the league’s least vaccinated teams, but quarterback Justin Herbert has been vaccinated and apparently those numbers are improving.

Elsewhere, players such as Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott have acknowledged receiving the vaccine but refused to condemn those who don’t.

“I got the vaccine just because I wanted to put myself in the best situation to be out there for my team week in and week out,” he told reporters. “But I mean, not everyone feels that strongly or maybe other people still have their view of vaccines. You can’t force someone to do something that they don’t want to do to their body.”

But, remember, nobody is forcing anybody to do anything.

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“You can have freedom of choice, it doesn’t mean you have freedom from consequences,” said Rimoin.

As the Chargers begin training camp for the 2021 season, here are six key questions that they hope will be answered.

Then there will be players who vacillate about the vaccine, guys like Tampa Bay’s Leonard Fournette.

Last week he stated, “Vaccine I can’t do it ... ” in a now-deleted tweet. But this weekend, in meeting with reporters, he said he was still considering it.

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“I know a lot of people who got the shot and still got the corona,” Fournette said. “Just taking it day-by-day, week-by-week, talking to the doctors, trying to figure out what’s best for myself and the team.”

Fournette said his coach Bruce Arians gave him one request.

“Just don’t get the team sick,” he said.

Then just get the damn shot.


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