Vikings safety Harrison Smith, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and wide receiver Adam Thielen said at the Vikings’ recent minicamp that they hadn’t been vaccinated for COVID-19. Quarterback Kirk Cousins declined to say if he had been, leaving the possibility that he’s among the Vikings who also have elected to forgo getting the shot.
What makes this interesting has nothing to do with these players beliefs or politics, but rather what the decision means when it comes to the upcoming season. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer made it clear that players are going to have a more difficult time operating if they aren’t vaccinated — the NFL is going to make sure of that — and there’s also a greater chance that anyone who doesn’t get vaccinated could end up missing games.
NFL teams, and most players, have no time for distractions, or guys whose primary focus isn’t on doing whatever is necessary to win games. The Vikings will enter this season with big expectations and with Zimmer under immense pressure to get his team back to the playoffs. Veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Vikings in March to be part of a team that he sees as a contender.
Peterson, 30, knows the clock is ticking on his career and entering his 11th season wants the opportunity to win a Super Bowl. Having teammates, especially key ones, have to sit out games because of COVID, or because they were in close contact with people who do have it, would cause issues with that plan.
That’s why Peterson recently said on his “All Things Covered” podcast (hat tip to Pro Football Talk) that unvaccinated players are putting themselves at risk of having to miss games and not doing everything possible to help their team win.
“If you’re not vaccinated … you’re just living in a different world, first and foremost,” said Peterson, who is vaccinated. “I just think, why go through those things—why put yourself at risk of going through that again? … Why not put yourself in the best position possible to win a championship?”
The NFL’s new COVID-19 protocols for 2021 call for daily testing for unvaccinated players, while vaccinated players will only have to be tested once every 14 days and won’t have to wear masks. Unvaccinated players also will have many more restrictions to follow both inside and outside of the team’s facility, and fines will be up to $50,000 for a first offense.
“They are going to be wearing masks, they’re going to have to social distance, they’ll have daily testing,” said Zimmer, who like all NFL coaches had to get vaccinated in order to be allowed to do his job effectively. “They won’t go home for bye week and have to come back here and test every day. When we go on the road, they won’t be able to go out to dinner with anybody. They’ll have to travel on buses differently and travel on planes differently, so a lot of meetings will be virtual like we have here.”
The Washington Post has reported that nearly half of the NFL’s players have been vaccinated, and 16 teams have more than 90 players vaccinated, while three have 70 or more vaccinated. The agreement on the rules that was made between the NFL and the NFLPA also says unvaccinated players will not be allowed to eat at restaurants, go to nightclubs or take part in marketing events.
These means the normal camaraderie that exists on a team will be lost for some, unless a player is willing to take the chance of being hit with a major fine. Of course, the problem then would be how the vaccinated players on the team would feel about being around that person and knowing they are risking getting COVID. This isn’t so much from a concern about the person’s health as it is a concern that if they are lost for a game or more, it will hurt the team.
And that isn’t even getting into the locker room dynamic of how guys will feel.
“It’s not only the safety part of being vaccinated, but as far as being a part of a football team,” Zimmer said. “For me, for instance, I don’t have to wear a mask. We had a staff meeting the other day and everybody is in the same room. We can sit there and talk as opposed to doing this like we’re doing here. I know you guys know, I don’t like doing all of the media stuff, but I would much rather be sitting in a room talking to you then up at this camera and looking down at you.”