COVID-19 vaccine concerns for Buffalo Bills as QB Josh Allen sidesteps questions about whether he’s had a shot?
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – For every professional sports team in America – and, for that matter, every business – the question of whether employees get the COVID-19 vaccination or not can become a divisive issue, one that could potentially tear at the fabric of an organization.
As that pertains to the NFL in general and the Buffalo Bills in particular, players and staff members who choose not to get vaccinated could prevent a relaxation of COVID-19 protocols and thus delay the return to normal day-to-day operations. In turn, that could obviously create tension within the ranks.
Bills coach Sean McDermott addressed the situation at length Tuesday afternoon in his first Zoom call with reporters since the end of the 2020 season.
“I’m concerned about it, being very upfront,” he said. “It’s something we’ve talked about, and I don’t think the right word is trying to convince (people to get the shot); I think the right word is to educate and build awareness and then let people decide.
“It’s kind of two-pronged, if you will, with health and safety and then what you’ve got to do to do your job. I think those are the two prongs of the fork right now that must be considered and considered seriously.”
Just last week, Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer expressed publicly his “disappointment” regarding his team not being able to reach the 85% threshold Major League Baseball has instituted in order to relax COVID-19 protocols within teams.
“It’s disappointing to not be at 85% as a team,” Hoyer said. “We’ve worked hard to try and convince or educate the people that have been reluctant. We’re at a place right now – I’m not going to give up hope we’re going to get there – but my level of optimism is waning. There’s a competitive advantage we’re going to miss. It’s a disappointing thing that we’ll have anxieties and restrictions that others don’t.”
The NFL is considering going to the 85% threshold as well, and it is likely to happen. If enacted, and the Bills get to that level of players and staff vaccinated, they can begin to do things such as meet in large groups, dine together at the facility or elsewhere, and stop wearing masks and contact tracing devices.
8 SENSIBLE NFL TRADES:Which team would be Julio Jones’ best landing spot?
MIKE JONES:Working smarter, not harder should be NFL’s focus after players’ push for modified offseason
RODGERS ON PACKERS FUTURE::‘Anything’s on the table at this point’
Most importantly, as vaccine statistics have proven, getting the shot greatly reduces the chances of anyone contracting the coronavirus.
“I mean, it’s nice when you’re fully vaccinated to be able to do some of those things,” said McDermott. “It’s important to us, and I think it’s for the greater good of not only our team but the community as well. I applaud everyone in our building who has been able to do that and improve our situation.”
If McDermott knows the actual team vaccination figure, he isn’t sharing it. But when he was asked about the operational status of the facility at One Bills Drive, he said, “If I had to put a number on it or percentage, I think it’d probably be, I don’t know, the amount of normal versus protocols, I’d say we’re 60% normal, 65-70% normal. And I think that’s good.”
McDermott is vaccinated. So, too, are general manager Brandon Beane and team owners Terry and Kim Pegula. As for the players, it’s probably safe to assume that the majority are vaccinated, but that majority could be 80% or it could be 51%. Or, maybe there isn’t a majority at all.
Quarterback Josh Allen, who earlier in the offseason said he had not been vaccinated and was still gathering information, did an expert tap dance when he was asked about it Tuesday – which seemed to indicate that he has not gotten a shot.
“With respect to that question, I know vaccines are gonna be a hot topic, really throughout the remainder of the season. And we’re having conversations as a team, and I’m going to keep those conversations and choices of myself and my teammates in house,” Allen said.
“What the right answer is,” Allen continued, “and how to go about it, we’re not sure and we’re trying to get to a conclusion. But at the same time, we’re letting everybody make their own personal decision on this matter and that’s really all I have to say about that.”
The roster, which stands at 84 players right now, began the in-person organized team activity phase of the offseason Monday, and McDermott reported that about 70 players are taking part, likely one of the highest figures in the NFL.
However, while McDermott didn’t get into specifics about who is vaccinated and who is not, it’s safe to say that not everyone is, and that may include some of the players who are not at One Bills Drive this week. For instance, wide receiver Stefon Diggs is not there, though McDermott did not offer a reason why he is staying away, at least for now.
“I really appreciate the participation and numbers that have shown up for us,” McDermott said. “I know it’s obviously varied around the league, but we’re certainly encouraged by the guys that we have here and I think it really speaks to the guys that we have, the types of people we have. They want to get better, and they know they get better by being here. When you can be around each other, build the team, build the chemistry, that’s so important to good teams.”
One thing the NFL has on its side is time. The regular season is still 3½ months away, which leaves plenty of time for more players currently on the fence to go ahead and get the shot. Also, as COVID-19 numbers continue to fall, New York could further alter its protocols to allow for more activities, even for non-vaccinated people.
“The season is not upon us right now, but it will be at some point,” said McDermott.
And once it arrives, the Bills will have to hope that their non-vaccinated players don’t get the virus and possibly create an outbreak that could impact a game or two which, again, could create plenty of division in the locker room.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.