Opinion: Cole Beasley, other NFL players miss mark in pushback on COVID-19 vaccination

Take a bow, Cole Beasley. You’re now the face of the NFL’s anti-vax movement.

Beasley, the Buffalo Bills receiver, has pulled no punches in expressing his disdain for the revised COVID-19 protocols devised by the NFL and the NFL Players Association — instituted for training camp and preseason at the moment, with more tweaks likely coming later — that draws a line in the sand between vaccinated players and the unvaccinated.

If you’re vaccinated, you’re not required to wear a mask while at team headquarters and are no longer subjected to daily testing. You can hang out in the sauna, eat in the cafeteria and visit with friends and family while on road trips.

If you’re not vaccinated, you might as well wear a red X on your forehead. You’ll be subjected to daily testing, must wear a mask at team headquarters and are banned from the sauna and steam room. You can’t eat in the cafeteria. And if you leave the team hotel to eat at a restaurant or interact with someone outside the team’s traveling party during a road trip, you’ll be subject to a $50,000 fine.

Yes, the NFL and union made the point clear: They want the players vaccinated.

This is crazy, Beasley responded in a Twitter post. Did we vote on this? I stay in the hotel. We still have meetings. We will all be together. Vaccinated players can go out of the hotel and could bring covid back to where I am. So, what does it matter if I stay in the hotel now? 100 percent immune with vaccination? No. The players association is a joke. Call it something different. It’s not for the players.

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley (11) is tackled after a catch against the Denver Broncos during the first quarter at Empower Field at Mile High.
Of course, Beasley, like colleagues across the league and Americans at large, has every right not to get vaccinated to protect himself from the novel coronavirus that has claimed the lives of more than 600,000 U.S. citizens and millions more throughout the world.

Yet slamming the NFLPA over this one is way off-base. Why not slam the league, too? For Beasley to take shots at the union over this is both silly and unfair.

Actually, the NFLPA deserves some credit for working hand-in-hand with the league — and not always in Kumbaya fashion — since the pandemic started to work out the protocols and work rules. Remember, without the NFLPA’s insistence, the league would have likely tried to go into last season without strict daily testing. And the union has still defended the right for the players to choose, with NFLPA medical adviser Thom Mayer so eloquently putting it, These are grown-ass men making grown-ass decisions.

Yet Beasley took a shot an an easy target, the NFLPA, rather than slinging an arrow at Bills GM Brandon Beane, who took heat recently for suggesting that he would hypothetically cut an unvaccinated player to help his team have certain COVID-19 protocols lifted.

In any event, it’s a real-world debate playing out in the NFL environment … just like COVID-19 has disrupted the NFL world as it has society at large.

Beasley is hardly alone in his position. Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold, Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon and Washington Football Team defensive end Montez Sweat are others to declare a similar bottom line, although no one has been as vociferous as Beasley on the matter. As NFL teams wrapped up minicamps last week and entered the dead zone of the league calendar before training camps open in late July, the vaccination issue loomed as a pressing matter. While Washington coach Ron Rivera enlisted a COVID-19 vaccine expert to speak to his players about this issue with the team’s vaccination rate hovering around 50% (as of 10 days ago), Steelers coach Mike Tomlin boasted that Pittsburgh was tops in the league for vaccination rate among players, though no official data has been released.

Guys have worked hard to adhere to the policies and protocols, Tomlin said on Tuesday. It’s just been a continuation of 2020 in regards to our attitude. We’re going to work hard to adhere and look for any advantage that compliance might give us.

After what the NFL went through last season (along with society at large), I’m baffled that NFL players haven’t been leading the vaccination charge. I’m not buying the reason that some, like Sweat, have expressed in that they are seeking more information. But the resistance may also underscore the deep-seated mistrust that exists with such widespread health measures, much of which I presume relates to some shameful cases throughout history. There’s also the argument that after such a rapid development of the vaccines, more time is needed to measure long-term effects. But still.

I think it really comes down to comfort level of the person; they have to do what’s best for them, Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell said last week.

Campbell reported that he was indeed vaccinated, and undoubtedly the 2020 experience cemented that decision. The Ravens had one of the worst outbreaks in the league — their late-season game at Pittsburgh was postponed three times — and Campbell contracted COVID-19. He has described overcoming it as brutal and still wonders whether there are lingering symptoms.

Sometimes, I feel like it kind of comes and goes in a sense, Campbell said, so I guess I really can’t be sure until we get into the thick of things. But I’ve been really good for the last couple of months. I haven’t had any real issues, but it definitely lingered for a while.

I still don’t wish that on anybody. It’s just such a tough thing to go through, just because you don’t really feel like yourself. Even when you are past the symptoms that everybody has, getting back into being a professional athlete, there’s a certain of feeling you have when you’re just ready, and COVID-19 kind of made it a little harder to get that good feeling.

If the case of Chris Paul in the NBA Playoffs this week — the Phoenix Suns star guard is sidelined indefinitely after entering the league’s health and safety protocols — didn’t resonate with NFL players weighing whether to get vaccinated, then perhaps they should take stock in Campbell’s testimonial as part of their research. Concerns of whether the vaccine will cause issues down the line may pale when compared to issues that may linger (or be discovered in the future) from having had COVID-19.

Beasley, in a follow-up Twitter message, didn’t budge. Never mind the risks.

I may die of covid, but I’d rather die living, Beasley posted. I have family members whose days are numbered. If they want to come and see me and stay at my house then they are coming regardless of protocol.

Maybe so. But the workplace rules in the NFL are operating at a higher standard — and definitely for the better.

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