Having missed four days training due to breaches of Covid-19 protocols, Kirk Cousins returned to pre-season with the Minnesota Vikings last week.
A quarterback who will earn $21 million (€18 million) this season, he described his enforced absence as frustrating, promised to be more vigilant about close contacts, and wondered aloud whether he might construct plexiglass around where he sits to insulate himself when off the field.
“I’ve thought about it,” said Cousins, “because I’m gonna do whatever it takes.”
He’s gonna do whatever it takes, except get vaccinated. Having conducted his own, ahem, extensive research into virology, the 32-year-old with a degree in kinesiology is one of several Vikings (nearly four out of 10) still refusing to get jabbed.
Their recalcitrance is all the more baffling since any club failing to fulfil a fixture in the coming campaign due to a virus outbreak automatically forfeits the game. Every member of the squad will lose a week’s wage, and their various performance bonuses while unvaccinated players will also be liable for an extra $14,000 (€12,000) fine.
That kind of financial penalty mightn’t make much of a dent in Cousins’s estimated $200 million (€170 million) personal fortune but plenty of his lower-paid colleagues will feel the hit. Remarkably, plenty of his team-mates in Minnesota and peers around the league remain vehemently opposed to the vaccine and any attempt to make them take it.
The moment the NFL announced its hardline policy toward Covid-19 last month, including restrictions on the personal movements of the unvaccinated, there was no shortage of players taking to social media to vent their frustrations.
“Never thought I would say this,” tweeted Deandra Hopkins, a wide receiver with the Atlanta Falcons, “but 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 in the NFL.”
While Hopkins quickly rowed back on his threat to retire, Cole Beasley, a wide receiver with the Buffalo Bills, released a rap single outlining his opposition. Titled 'Heavy 1s', it is truly a poetic champion composing, boasting lyrics like, "The whole world can suck a d**k with no hands . . . I'm too ill to be repaired, Ain't no vaccination for me . . . I got heavy nuts, F**k everyone."
In a similarly discordant tone, Jack Brewer, once a safety with the Vikings and formerly of a group called “Black Voices for Trump”, described the NFL system of penalties as “un-American” and further proof that the league is associating with “socialist movements”.
Aside from demonstrating yet again that very few in these parts understand what socialism is, here was more evidence of the collective mania that has afflicted parts of this nation, allowing a pandemic to become politicised. As if the coronavirus cares a jot whether anybody aligns with the left or the right side of the aisle.
While some teams have one in three in the locker-room remaining unvaccinated, the NFL claims 90 per cent of players overall have had at least one dose to date and coaches have been outspoken in pleading with the rest to do so. As a microcosm of society, the league was bound to have a minority of determined anti-vaxxers, some refuseniks citing religious objections, most seeming to be products of the same strands of disinformation and conspiracy theory nonsense blighting the wider world.
One player thought the injection was only given to those who were sick with the virus in order to cure them. Another reckoned he didn’t need to get it because he didn’t have a wife or kids and was keeping to himself when not at work. The most ludicrous hold-out explained his reluctance by spouting fantastical guff about Dr Anthony Fauci’s commercial relationship with Pfizer meaning it was all a money grab.
In Washington, head coach Ron Rivera, immuno-compromised after a bout with cancer, took the drastic step of bringing in Kizzmekia Corbett, a professor of immunology at Harvard who helped to produce the Moderna vaccine, to meet with his squad and allay their fears. She didn’t.
“I probably won’t get vaccinated until I get more facts and that stuff,” said defensive end Montez Sweat, afterwards. “I’m not a fan of it at all.”
The levels of incredulity and ignorance are startling considering everybody who makes it to the NFL has spent some time in third-level education. Maybe this is a consequence of so many traditional gridiron powerhouse universities being happy to allow putative football stars walk out their doors with primary school reading ability.
Of course, to even attend college, every student, athlete or not, must first supply proof they have received the full panoply of childhood inoculations covering the likes of measles, mumps, rubella and meningococcal disease. So, these conscientious objectors have been getting vaccinated all their lives.
When not spitting mediocre rhymes, Cole Beasley tried to frame his truculence as that of a veteran speaking out for younger, less established colleagues he alleges are being bullied by management to get the shot or get cut.
That may or may not be true but when clubs must trim their rosters from 90 players down to 53 later this month, it’s not difficult to imagine that, in situations where two individuals of similar ability are vying for a spot, the vaccinated guy will win out. Coaches may figure that’s one less potential problem for the season. The rest of us can see it as rewarding those who have chosen to be responsible citizens.