Cole Beasley wants to be heard, not questioned, about his refusal to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
The Buffalo Bills’ All-Pro slot receiver, who has been vocal about his stance on social media throughout the offseason, refused to discuss the merits of his decision after the first day of training camp practice Wednesday, when he read a prepared statement about his concerns, painted himself as a selfless conscientious objector helping younger players and asked reporters to limit their questions to strictly football.
Bills GM Brandon Beane said the Bills are "just over" 80% of players who have had at least one shot of the vaccine.
Beasley later said he was finished engaging about the issue on social media, then minutes after his news conference released an explicit rap song about his refusal to get the vaccine titled “Heavy 1s” on Twitter, along with a message stating, in part, “I don’t have this constant thirst for acceptance … with respect for my teammates this is my last tweet until the season ends … let’s go win the super bowl boys!”
He then tweeted another link for fans to purchase the song on various platforms.
Beasley’s statement to reporters, read from his phone, included complaints about the NFL Players’ Association, which has jointly agreed with the NFL on separate protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated players this season, and complaints about information he feels has been “withheld from players in order for a player to be swayed” to become vaccinated. He did not go into detail about what information he believes has been withheld either during his statement or when pressed for clarification.
You can add Jon Feliciano to the list of Bills and NFL players who are in the anti-vaccine camp.
“There are different rules for vaccinated players vs. unvaccinated players based on the science and data provided by the CDC and medical experts we rely on for guidance,” George Atallah, the NFLPA’s assistant executive director of external affairs, wrote in an email to The Buffalo News in response to Beasley’s statement. “The protocols for unvaccinated players are the same as last year. This year’s protocols are a moving target given the evolving nature of the virus and what the data is emerging about the Delta variant. The only recommended change we have suggested to date is increasing the frequency of testing for vaccinated players as an extra precaution.
“We trust you will report all this responsibly as our union is taking every measure to keep our membership safe and ensure accurate information is available to all.”
The Bills have “just over 80%” of the roster vaccinated against Covid-19, general manager Brandon Beane said Wednesday morning, or slightly less than the reported NFL average of 85% of players who have received at least one shot. All coaches have been vaccinated, Beane said, as have all Tier 1 and Tier 2 staff members except one, whose exemption is for a “legitimate reason.”
The team opened training camp with two players, starting left tackle Dion Dawkins and reserve guard Ike Boettger, sidelined because of Covid-19. One is symptomatic. Neither was at the practice facility.
“Of course, it happens at the same position,” Beane said about losing two offensive linemen for an undetermined amount of time. “Murphy’s Law, here.”
“You know I don't really get into that,” Beane said. “Josh is in a great headspace, and he's ready to roll. And if for some reason we're able to get something done, I'll definitely make sure you guys know."
Vaccinated personnel who test positive and are asymptomatic are isolated and permitted to return after two negative tests at least 24 hours apart. Unvaccinated players who test positive, just like last season, are isolated for a minimum of 10 days and may return when asymptomatic.
Unvaccinated players are also subject to a five-day quarantine period if they have close contact with an infected person. This does not apply to vaccinated players.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen refused to say whether he has been vaccinated. However, unlike Beasley, he spoke to socially distant reporters without wearing a mask, which is mandated for unvaccinated players at team headquarters, except during practice.
“I’m going to keep medical information to me,” Allen said. “Any talks I have with the team, I want to keep that internal. I know guys have their own different types of responses, but for the time being that’s how I’m going to approach it.”
At least 12 players were seen wearing masks after practice, which does not necessarily mean they are unvaccinated: Wide receivers Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis and Duke Williams; defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Treyvon Hester; defensive end A.J. Epenesa; linebackers Tyrell Adams and Marquel Lee; tight end Jacob Hollister; and running backs Matt Breida and Taiwan Jones.
It might not be easy for Allen to improve on last year. He ranked fifth in the NFL in passing yards, tied for fourth in completions, fourth in completion percentage, fourth in quarterback rating and second in total touchdowns passing and rushing.
Beasley was prominently featured in a team video Tuesday and was shown without a mask and greeting other players, including Allen.
“Guys have different opinions” about Covid-19 vaccines, Allen said. “They have different thoughts, ideas. Again, everyone’s entitled to that. If guys want to get it, great. If guys don’t want to get it, great. Nobody looks at the guys who aren’t getting it as a distraction, or not wanting to help this team win. Everybody’s in the same boat here. We’re all going with one heartbeat and that’s helping the Buffalo Bills win football games and ultimately try to win a championship.”
The Bills had four or five players test positive throughout the summer, including two breakthrough cases with players who had been vaccinated, Beane said. But the team is not overly concerned about unvaccinated players becoming a distraction in the locker room, despite Beasley and others being outspoken against the vaccine.
“People are passionate about a lot of things these days, it seems,” coach Sean McDermott said when asked about Beasley. “I respect that. And I want to try and gain as much understanding as I can, and I expect his teammates to do that, based on his passion in this situation. But we’re here to play football. We’re here to get our minds focused. I’m anxious to get us out here today and get into a good, healthy routine.”
The full text of Beasley’s prepared statement:
“All right, I want to start this off by saying I'm not anti- or pro-vax. I'm pro-choice. With that being said, the issue at hand is information is being withheld from players in order for a player to be swayed in a direction he may not be comfortable with. When dealing with a player's health and safety, there should be complete transparency regarding information that is vital in the decision-making process.
“Without having all the proper information, a player can feel misguided and unsure about a very personal choice. It makes a player feel unprotected and gives concerns about future topics regarding health and our ability to make educated decisions.
“With regard to our overall safety, we have to know we're armed with full knowledge and understanding that those who are in a position to help us will always do that based on our individual situation.
“Some people may think that I'm being selfish and making this a ‘me’ thing. It is all about the young players who don't have a voice and are reaching out to me every day because they're being told if they don't get vaxed, they'll be cut.
“Agents are being told by teams if they have unvaccinated guys, they will not be given opportunities as of now to be seen in workouts. So once unvaxed players get cut, they're losing a dream they have worked their whole lives for over a vaccine that is proven to not keep people from contracting Covid, as we've seen.
“Every doctor I've gone to with questions begins every sentence with 'from what we know now,' which tells me we don't know enough. The NFLPA is working to have vaccinated players tested more frequently than what the NFL initially stated. A lot of players got the vaccination with the idea that these rules were already set in stone. And they're not.
“It is common sense that if a vaxed or unvaxed player is tested less frequently, the likelihood of a player being pulled for Covid drops dramatically. In regard to player safety, I'll conclude by saying we all want to be safe.
“For so many players around the NFL, safety does not solely mean avoiding the Covid virus. Our health is the now, and years beyond, which we are trying to protect with our personal choice while doing all the things we did in our protocol during a very successful 2020 NFL season.”
According to sources, the plan is for Murphy and Wood to go on the road to call games this season, unless things change because of the spread of Covid-19. The Bills open the preseason on Aug. 13 at Detroit.
It is worth noting that the NFL has said players cannot be released because of their vaccination status, and even spoke to Beane when comments he made in May suggested that might be a factor in hypothetical roster decisions.
Beasley, 32, also addressed a recent back-and-forth he had about vaccines with defensive end Jerry Hughes on Twitter.
“I know me and Jerry had a conversation on social media, which a lot of people don’t think that’s the best way to do things, but look, me and Jerry are brothers,” Beasley said. “We had a conversation on the phone immediately after. We talked it through. And we weren’t mad at each other. We were just talking to each other. A lot of things can be taken out of context and in the wrong way on social media, because people are going to do what they do with it, you know what I mean? But Jerry’s one of the guys that I’ll run through a wall for.
“Brothers have debates. Not everybody agrees on everything. I don’t understand why we don’t understand that. But that doesn’t mean you don’t like somebody or you have to hate them or whatever the narrative that we create in society. But I love all my teammates, man, no matter what they want to do or anything.”
As for what information Beasley believes he wasn’t getting from the NFLPA?
“I said what I said. That’s kind of where I want to leave it,” Beasley said. “I don’t want to get into a lot of details. There are just some things that maybe we were led to believe that it was going to be this way and that’s not really the case when it’s ever-evolving and a decision was based on these rules that we thought were going to be in place, and they were made to seem that way. And that’s pretty much it. Other than that, that’s all I’m saying about it and that’s all.”
Beasley’s business partner, music producer Victor “Phazz” Clark, told The Buffalo News that Beasley wrote and recorded the anti-Covid-19 vaccine single himself and he didn’t hear the song until Tuesday, a day before it was released. He conceded initial concern about the lyrics.
“I was a little nervous,” Clark said. “But we talked about it and he gave me his point of view and I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And he put out his statement. He wanted to put a statement out there to let people know this is not aimed toward the whole world, it’s not aimed at anybody in particular besides the people who are just trying to possibly make him do things that he doesn’t want to do.
“He wrote his statement on his own and he let me check it out afterwards. That’s my business partner and friend, so we definitely had to collectively make a decision and he definitely knew that he was ready to take it on.”
The greatest concern surrounding players’ vaccination status at One Bills Drive revolves around the different guidelines for vaccinated and unvaccinated players.
“We don’t like that,” Beane said, “because that can naturally divide anything, whatever team you’re trying to build. A business team, a sports team. … (We’re) just trying to make sure we can take care of the guys that have chosen to not get vaccinated as well as we do with those that have.”
Unvaccinated players are tested daily, may not eat with teammates and must wear masks at all times at the team facility, including while lifting in the weight room and during walkthroughs and at practice, “except when doing so would interfere with their ability to engage in athletic activity.
Unvaccinated players may not leave the team hotel or interact with anyone outside the team when on the road, and those who come into close contact with an infected person are subject to a mandatory quarantine.
“The landscape has changed for all of us in some way, shape or form, when Covid came on the scene last year,” McDermott said. “The protocols are different slightly this year. The landscape is a little bit different this year because of the two sets of protocols, if you will, vaccinated and unvaccinated, so that creates a little bit heavy of a lift. And so it’s important that we use that as an opportunity to come together as a team, as opposed to allowing that to divide us and be divisive.”
Players can be fined for failing to adhere to the guidelines and Covid-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated players could result in forfeited games.
The Bills are not planning to keep an emergency quarterback separate from the rest of the roster, as they did last season with Jake Fromm, McDermott said.
“It’s almost like last year was a little bit easier for all clubs because nobody was vaccinated,” Beane said, “so everyone masked, everyone couldn’t go in the saunas, steam room, couldn’t sit down in the (cafeteria). So now it’s just trying to make sure we create an equal environment for everybody, even though some guys can’t go in the sauna, some guys can’t sit down in the cafeteria. But we respect everybody’s final decision, whether they’re going to get vaccinated or not. And we’re just going to do the best we can here.”
“There’s going to be some bumps in the road, just trying to figure out what we can do with unvaccinated guys versus a vaccinated person. But we’ll figure it out. We’re all on the same team. I think our unvaccinated guys know we’re behind them. We don’t make the rules. It’s our job to enforce the protocols and protect each other. And that’s what we want to do.”