There is often an air of invincibility surrounding finely conditioned athletes. Elite level sports in general can breed a false perception of masculinity that adversely shapes the psyche of the participants and those who vicariously closely follow them. Sports and the COVID-19 pandemic inevitably intersected almost immediately after the first case in the United States was diagnosed on Jan. 19, 2020, when a man who had returned home to Snohomish County, Washington, roughly 33 miles outside of Seattle, from a trip to Wuhan, China, Ground Zero for the global outbreak, tested positive.
When the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed this past June to impose strict and reasonable COVID-19 protocols for all 32 teams’ mandatory minicamps and the current preseason, as cases in the U.S. continue to rapidly rise as a result of the highly virulent Delta variant, several prominent players adamantly stated they would not take the vaccine despite extensive medical data thus far showing it to have low negative side effects.
Teams were informed that those who were fully vaccinated would not be subject to daily testing and would not have to wear face covering, while personnel who were not vaccinated would be required to undergo daily testing and would have to wear coverings at their respective team facility and during team travel. Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley subsequently took a public stance against being vaccinated, as well as the new league mandates, asserting he was willing to sacrifice his NFL career.
In what he characterized as a “Public Service Announcement,” Beasley posted a tweet in part reading, “I’ll be out in the public. If your [sic] scared of me then steer clear, or get vaccinated. Point. Blank. Period. I may die of covid, but I’d rather die actually living. I have family members whose days are numbered. If they want to come see me and stay at my house then they are coming regardless of protocol. I don’t play for the money anymore.”
The 32-year-old Beasley continued, “I’m not going to take meds for a leg that isn’t broken…I’ll play for free this year to live life how I’ve lived it from day one. If I’m forced into retirement, so be it.” Beasley also provided misinformation arguing: “You get in this tricky situation now where if you do mandate that that’s kind of going against what our constitution says and the freedom to kind of express yourself one way or the other.”
It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Beasley’s position that Bills general manager Brandon Beane informed the media at a press conference on Tuesday that the defiant native Dallas, Texas, who began his career with the Cowboys in 2012 before signing a four-year, $29 million deal with Buffalo in 2019, is among four unvaccinated Bills players who must be isolated from the team for five days as a result of close contact with a member of the team’s training staff who tested positive. Another outspoken Bills opponent of the vaccine, Gabriel Davis, is also part of the group in the league’s re-entry process. They will miss the team’s final preseason game on Saturday versus the Green Bay Packers in Buffalo.
Beasley is just one of many players and coaches across the broad sports spectrum who have explicitly or ostensibly affixed politics, culture and or religion to their anti-vaxxer views. Minnesota Vikings starting quarterback Kirk Cousins refuses to be vaccinated. The roots of his mindset were likely planted by his father, Don Cousins, the lead pastor of Discovery Church in Orlando, Florida, whose many racially charged tropes include that Satan is behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 2019 NFL MVP, who recently recovered from COVID for the second time in eight months, continues to resist getting the single dose Johnson & Johnson or the two jabs offered by Pfizer and Moderna.
The anti-vaxxer issue transcends ethnicity. COVID doesn’t discriminate. Beasley and Cousins are white. Davis and Jackson are Black. Yes, getting vaccinated is a personal choice. Conversely, it is the prerogative and obligation of public and private institutions to protect their employees and business interests. It is justifiable to argue that the moral and ethical responsibility of each individual is to put his and her family and colleagues ahead of selfish compulsions. But idealism is in an eternal conflict with antagonism.