For every professional sports team in America, and therefore every business, the question of whether or not employees will get vaccinated against COVID-19 may become a question that dividesthat could potentially tear the fabric of an organization.
With respect to the NFL in general and the Buffalo Bills in particular, players and staff members who choose not to be vaccinated could prevent a relaxation of COVID-19 protocols and thus delay the return to normal daily operations. In return, this could obviously create tension in the ranks.
Bills coach Sean McDermott addressed the situation at length Tuesday afternoon during his first Zoom call with reporters since the end of the 2020 season.
“It worries me, being very frank,” he said. “It’s something we’ve talked about and I don’t think the right word is trying to convince (people to get vaccinated); I think the right word is educate and raise awareness and then let people decide. It’s sort of a two-pronged thing, if you will, between health and safety and what you need to do to do your job. I think those are the two sides of the spectrum right now that need to be taken into account and considered seriously.
Just last week, Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer publicly expressed his “disappointment» regarding his team not being able to reach the 85% threshold established by Major League Baseball in order to relax COVID-19 protocols within teams.
“It’s disappointing to not be at 85 percent as a team,” Hoyer said. “We worked hard to try to convince or educate people who were reluctant. We’re at a point right now – I’m not going to give up hope of getting there – but my level of optimism is diminishing. There is a competitive advantage that we will miss. It’s disappointing that we face anxieties and restrictions that others don’t have.
The NFL is also considering reaching the 85% threshold, and that is likely to happen. If passed and the bills reach that level of vaccinated players and staff, they will be able to start doing things such as gathering in large groups, dining together at the facility or elsewhere, and stopping wearing masks and contact tracing devices.
Most importantly, as vaccine statistics prove, getting vaccinated significantly reduces anyone’s chances of contracting the coronavirus.
“I mean, it’s nice when you’re fully vaccinated to be able to do some of these things,” McDermott said. “It’s important to us and I think it’s for the greater good of not only our team but also the community. I congratulate everyone in our building who was able to do this and improve our situation.
If McDermott knows the team’s actual vaccination number, he isn’t sharing it, but when asked about the operational status of the One Bills Drive facility, he said, “If I had to put a number or a percentage on it, I I think that would probably be, I don’t know, the amount of normal versus the protocols, I would say we’re 60% normal, 65-70% normal. And I think that’s good.
McDermott is vaccinated. So are general manager Brandon Beane and team owners Terry and Kim Pegula. When it comes to players, it’s probably safe to assume the majority are vaccinated, but that majority could be 80% or 51%. Or maybe there is no majority at all.
Quarterback Josh Allen, who earlier in the offseason said he had not been vaccinated and was still gathering information, did expert tap dancing when asked about it Tuesday, which seemed to indicate he had not received the vaccine.
“As far as that question goes, I know vaccines are going to be a hot topic, throughout the rest of the season, and we’re having conversations as a team and I’m going to keep those conversations and those choices from myself and from my teammates. internally,” Allen said.
“What the right answer is,” Allen continued, “and how to go about it, we’re not sure and we’re trying to come to a conclusion. But at the same time, we let everyone make their own personal decision on this question and that’s really all I have to say about it.
The roster, currently at 84 players, began the in-person organized team activity phase of the offseason on Monday, and McDermott reported that about 70 players are participating, likely one of the highest numbers in the NFL.
However, while McDermott didn’t specify who is vaccinated and who isn’t, it’s safe to say that not everyone is, and that may include some of the players who aren’t at One Bills Drive this week. For example, wide receiver Stefon Diggs isn’t there, although McDermott hasn’t explained why he’s remaining sidelined, at least for now.
“I really appreciate the turnout and the numbers that came in for us,” McDermott said. “I know it’s obviously varied around the league, but we’re definitely encouraged by the guys we have here and I think that really speaks to the guys we have, the type of people we have. They want to get better and they know they’re getting better by being here. When you can be together, build the team, build chemistry, that’s so important for good teams.
One thing the NFL has on its side is time. The regular season is still three and a half months away, giving plenty of time for more players currently in doubt to move forward and get vaccinated. Additionally, as COVID-19 numbers continue to decline, New York State may further modify its protocols to allow more activities, even for unvaccinated people.
“The season isn’t upon us yet, but it will be at some point,” McDermott said.
And once that happens, the Bills will have to hope that their unvaccinated players don’t contract the virus and perhaps create an outbreak that could impact a game or two, which, again, could create many divisions in the locker rooms.
Sal Maiorana can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.