Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid Credit: Bill Moore photo

It was March of 2020 when sports competitions were essentially shut down around the world as the global COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold. Although there has been a relative return to customary engagement, there is a palpable new normalcy and COVID is still disrupting the sports landscape. The term COVID protocols has become a common term of the sports vernacular.

Daily sports reports are filled with numerous players and coaches on the professional and collegiate levels who are in COVID protocols. Some teams and programs have multiple key players and personnel simultaneously in the protocols. It is inevitable that COVID will be a substantial influence in shaping the conclusion of the NFL regular season as teams battle for playoff spots and seedings in the closing weeks.

Already the issue of players choosing not to get vaccinated or attempting to mislead their teams and or the public has been controversial and consequential. Last week, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown was suspended without pay for three games by the league for misrepresenting his vaccination status.

Brown, who is now vaccinated, presented a fake vaccination card to the team at the start of training camp in July. Two other players, Buccaneers safety Mike Edwards and wide receiver John Franklin III, who was waived by Tampa Bay in August, were also suspended for misrepresenting their vaccination status. Brown and Edwards will be eligible to return on Dec. 26, Week 16 of the season, when the Bucs face the Carolina Panthers.

COVID has shown its resiliency as the Delta variant persists in causing death and severe illness, and the newly identified and perhaps more transmissible variant Omicron is eliciting widespread concern. Philadelphia 76ers All-NBA center Joel Embiid’s bout with COVID has amplified the realization among his peers and fans that the virus can beat down even the strongest, most well conditioned men and women.

Embiid missed nine games after contracting COVID in early November. He returned to the Sixers lineup on Nov. 27 and candidly discussed his humbling and painful experience.

“[It hit]…me hard,” said Embiid after scoring 42 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in a 121-120 76ers victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves two days following Thanksgiving. The 27-year-old four-time All-Star, whose vaccination status has not been made public, explained he labored to breathe and endured agonizing headaches far worse than migraines.

“I really thought I wasn’t going to make it. It was that bad,” he expounded. “So, I’m just thankful to be sitting here. I struggled with it, but I’m just glad I got over it and I’m just here…The whole body was just done, I guess. It was not a good time.”

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