PHILADELPHIA — DeMaurice Smith pleaded ignorance Thursday when the NFL players union boss was asked on a conference call for the vaccination rate of his rank and file.
“We don’t have all the information yet,” Smith claimed. “We’ll take a look and see if we have that data. We’ll get you the numbers when we have them.”
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that, despite the urging of the NFLPA to its members to get vaccinated, many players aren’t doing so.
There have been reports that less than 50% of the league’s 2,880 players have been vaccinated. The NFL is said to be considering relaxing COVID-19 restrictions on teams that hit an 85% vaccination threshold, but many clubs aren’t anywhere close to that figure.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold acknowledged this week that he hasn’t been vaccinated yet. “I still have to think about all those certain things that go into it,” he said.
Washington defensive end Montez Sweat said he is “not a fan” of the vaccine. He said he needs “more facts and all that type of stuff.”
Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott admitted that he is “concerned” about the low number of players on his team that have balked at getting vaccinated.
Asked for the Eagles’ player vaccination rate Thursday, a club spokesman said the team is not sharing that information at this time.
“We’ve encouraged players to get vaccinated from Day 1,” Smith said. “We’ve urged them to make sure that they just make a decision that’s informed.”
Despite players like Darnold and Sweat suggesting they still don’t have enough information on the COVID-19 vaccine or are still trying to gather facts, even Smith acknowledged that’s a pretty lame excuse at this point.
“For any player who needs information or has questions, call us,” he said. “We have information on our [NFLPA] website. We’ve talked about this for months. Their agents know. They’ve got access to team doctors. We have people going around to [spring] camps to talk to them about it.
“There really shouldn’t be any excuse for not having the answers to the questions that they have.”
NFLPA medical director Dr. Thom Mayer said he has fielded calls from over 200 players and their wives about the vaccine. He has answered their questions and urged them to get vaccinated.
And yet, many of them won’t.
“I think what you’re hearing is not that they don’t have the information, but that it’s a difficult decision for people to make,” Mayer said. “We’ve encouraged people [to get vaccinated]. But they need to make their own decisions about it.”
The league has incentivized getting vaccinated, allowing fully vaccinated players more freedom, including being excused from daily COVID-19 testing, not needing to wear a mask, and not needing to be quarantined if they come into contact with a person who tested positive. And yet, many players still are reluctant to get vaccinated.
It should be pointed out that the league can’t make players get vaccinated. While the union has urged its members to get the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s never going to agree to making it mandatory. Players can’t be released for not being vaccinated.
“The union has protected its members where they cannot get cut and will be paid whether they’re vaccinated or not,” Smith said. “So, there isn’t really anything else for us to talk about as far as ramifications if players don’t get vaccinated.”
Mayer said the reservations players have about getting vaccinated are what you’d expect.
“They want to know did [the vaccine development] go too fast,” he said. “They want to know why it’s an emergency-use authorization instead of the normal process that they go through on something like this.
“I think there are people that wonder whether this is medical experimentation. Is it too fast? Is it too soon? What do we know? And look, some things we don’t know.
“The couple of hundred people I’ve talked to, they had serious, thoughtful questions that deserved serious, thoughtful answers. It’s not a fear-mongering thing. It’s honest questions about things that are out there that they’re worried about.”
Smith said people shouldn’t be shocked that many NFL players are reluctant to get vaccinated.
“We’re a microcosm of our country,” he said. “There’s wide disparity in our country as far as why some people have gotten vaccinated and why some haven’t. The only thing we can do is make sure all of our players have all of the information.
“I don’t think the country is in a place right now where we lack the information. I think the country is in a place right now where people are asking whether they trust the information. And whether the information is sufficient to deal with any other issue they might have.”