Per an editorial piece by The Athletic’s Bob Kravitz (which I strongly recommend reading in its entirety), Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard believes that the franchise’s players should be getting vaccinated from the COVID-19 virus:
“Now, do I think our guys should be vaccinating? Yes, absolutely,” Ballard said via Kravitz. “But we’re not going to force people. Encourage it? Absolutely. Absolutely. I think it’s the right thing to do for our club and our country, but it’s an individual decision to make. You talk about hesitancy, well, it’s not like our country is running out to get it, either, so it’s not just the NFL.”
While Indianapolis’ vaccination numbers can certainly still increase this offseason, the Colts were reported as one of the NFL’s least vaccinated teams just a few weeks ago:
From our NFL vaccination story... More than 50 percent of NFL players have received at least one vaccine dose. Sixteen teams have more than 50 of 90 players vaccinated. Three teams have 70 or more. Colts, Jaguars, Cardinals, Chargers are among those with lower vaccination rates. https://t.co/zH5j0nNS3H— MarkMaske (@MarkMaske) June 15, 2021
NFL players are professional athletes, whose continued livelihood depends on the proper daily maintenance and routine upkeep of their bodies and being in tip-top shape (with often a short shelf-live for playing careers—especially in the overly physical game of pro football).
I don’t have any issue with a professional athlete being apprehensive about what they may or may not be putting into their bodies from that standpoint.
They rightfully should be.
They should seek out the most credible data, scientific research, and medical opinions they can to make fully informed decisions before doing anything.
At the end of the day, it remains each individual player’s right to choose though.
You can vehemently disagree with the ultimate decision (and you may not be wrong, and this certainly extends well beyond pro football), but you have to respect their ability to make such an individual choice.
That being said, a continued refusal of the vaccine won’t come without potential significant repercussions for the Colts—as the league’s updated protocol for training camp and preseason between vaccinated and unvaccinated players is night-and-day right now:
The NFL and NFLPA have agreed to updated COVID-19 protocols for 2021 training camp and preseason, per source.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 16, 2021
How different will life by for vaccinated and unvaccinated players? From the memo that just went to clubs: pic.twitter.com/8yMPW0JBWZ
Those stricter protocols dramatically affect training, workouts, traveling, team bonding, accessibility to teammates and coaches, and other team logistics.
Such protocols will presumably carry over into the regular season as well.
As Kravitz points out, Colts fans saw firsthand what happened when both DeForest Buckner and Denico Autry had positive COVID-19 tests and were unable to be activated off the Reserve/COVID-19 list in time for a pivotal Week 12, 45-26 home loss to the Tennessee Titans—which ultimately ended up costing the Colts the AFC South crown (although yes, the team had other opportunities to win the coveted title as well).
In a league with great parity, one win or loss can be the difference between making or missing the playoffs, hosting a playoff game(s), or going onto the road to play say someone like the Buffalo Bills first round in a difficult visitors environment—just like last season.
By Buckner being inactive this past year in Week 12 due to COVID-19 protocols, we were able to see how much losing a critical player can mean to winning or losing a football game.
We also saw the domino effect league-wide of how one player testing positive for COVID-19 can have a devastating impact on a team’s locker room, spreading like wildfire, and causing a string of inactives for game day.
(I mean the Denver Broncos were forced to start a practice squad wideout, Kendall Hilton, in 2020 because their four quarterbacks were required to quarantine on the COVID-19 list. The Broncos predictably lost that Week 12 matchup 31-3 to the New Orleans Saints).
To their credit, although the NFLPA is adamantly against any team mandated vaccines regardless, the Colts are not currently requiring their players to get vaccinated:
“The players ask questions, and that’s a good thing, but we’re not going to force anybody,” Ballard added via Kravitz. “We want it to be their decision. We want them to believe in it and do it for the right reasons.”
However, while you can respect each player’s individual freedom to make such a choice, I cannot help but wonder at what cost it may come to the Colts’ overall success next season—especially given the reputable science and data clearly pointing in one direction.