One of the all-time sports clichés is “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” That message has gotten lost on several members of the Buffalo Bills, whose refusal to get vaccinated for Covid-19 threatens the team’s performance on the field.
Approximately one-fifth of the Bills’ roster has not gotten inoculated against coronavirus. Some wear that distinction proudly, like wide receiver Cole Beasley, a leader of the “my body, my choice” contingent on the team.
Beasley has the legal right to refuse a vaccine, but there are consequences for him and his teammates. The NFL and its players union agreed to a set of health protocols that differ for vaccinated versus unvaccinated players. Beasley was among four unvaccinated Bills sent home from practice after they came in close contact with a trainer who – despite being fully vaccinated – had tested positive for Covid.
Missing practices two weeks before the regular season starts does not help the team, which is a legitimate Super Bowl contender this year.
Head coach Sean McDermott on Thursday expressed his frustration at players who could put the Bills at a competitive disadvantage by refusing vaccines.
“Being able to count on people is important, so when you’re going through a week – if this were a real week – and having the players out that we’ve had, that makes it harder to win games that way,” he said. “That’s the competitive piece of this.”
The other players sent away from the team are receiver Gabriel Davis and defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Vernon Butler Jr.
The NFL also applies financial penalties to those who flout its health rules. Bills receiver Isaiah McKenzie revealed that the league fined him $14,650 for failing to wear a mask on team premises. It was his second offense – the NFL had sent him a warning letter on July 27 citing his lack of masking on the same day the NFL had spoken to the players about Covid protocols and penalties. Beasley was hit with a similar fine for a mask violation.
Is there something about the wide receiver position that attracts self-centered players? Terrell Owens, who played one season for the Bills, is a first-ballot diva hall of famer. But touchdown celebrations or other “look-at-me” statements are one thing; endangering the health of teammates is in a different category.
Further violations by Beasley or McKenzie could earn them increased penalties, including a maximum fine of one-week’s salary and a four-game unpaid suspension.
Beasley defends his stance by pointing out that the trainer who tested positive had been vaccinated, while he and the other three players who were sidelined have tested negative for the virus.
“So what’s the point of the mask anyways?” Beasley tweeted. “Meanwhile I’m here still testing negative and can’t come back. Make it make sense.”
It starts to make sense when you get Covid information from respected doctors and scientists rather than YouTube channels and Facebook posts populated by crackpots and conspiracists.
Exceptions don’t disprove the rule. Breakthrough cases of Covid – like that of the trainer – are rare, even if there has been an uptick from the Delta variant. Studies show conclusively that those who are vaccinated are much less likely to get infected with Covid, and the chance of them becoming seriously ill or dying from an infection are drastically reduced.
Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, put it plainly in a radio interview this week. Jones said that players have a right to make their own decisions regarding their health and their bodies – until their decision “impacts negatively many others.”
“We have got to check ‘I’ at the door and go forward with ‘we.’ ”
Jones is a businessman first. He knows that Cowboys’ wins are good for his bottom line. Now would be a good time for the Bills’ ownership and front office to worry less about offending their vaccine resisters and join Jones in reminding players to put “we” first.
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