Most Pro Athletes Avoid the Role of ‘Public Spokesperson’ on COVID Vaccine • Protecting Children’s Health

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Santa Clara County, where the San Francisco 49ers train and play their NFL home games, has one of the highest COVID vaccination numbers in California. As of July 11, more than 76% of residents are eligible for the vaccine fully vaccinated, in part because the county and the 49ers franchise turned Levi’s Stadium into a mass inoculation area where more than 350,000 doses were given in four months.

The 49ers themselves, however, weren’t very enthusiastic about the shots. In June, head coach Kyle Shanahan said only 53 of the 91 athletes on the team’s roster – 58% – were fully vaccinated. The team has not issued since.

This is a familiar story in the world of professional sport. Despite the resources that other industries can only dream of, most U.S. pro leagues find it difficult to get the COVID-19 vaccination rate up to 85%, a standard considered sufficient enough to protect the locker. room or clubhouse from the spread of the disease. Only the Women’s National Basketball Association, at 99%, can boast of a successful campaign to educate and vaccinate its players.

And while the public expected the numbers in the sport, and the rich leagues they play, to help rally the nation’s vaccination effort, that didn’t happen. Even if leagues and unions advocate for players to get the shots, the industry clearly treats vaccination as a self -determination – not a responsibility.

“It’s everyone’s choice whether they want to get vaccinated or not,” said Sam Darnold, the Carolina Panthers quarterback and a former USC star, in June in revealing he didn’t get it. “For me, I remain alone now. I have no family or anything else. There are a ton of different things going on here. ”

Comments like Darnold and Buffalo Bills receiver Cole Beasley, who tweet a long -standing rejection of COVID vaccines as a threat to “my way of life and my values,” dominates the news cycles. Meanwhile, the leagues themselves, whose overall vaccination numbers exceed most countries, are cautiously surrounding the subject.

“Push? No. Encouragement, ”said Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, when asked at an MLB All-Star Game news conference about the union’s position on player vaccination.“ We were encouraging from the beginning. “

And most players avoided the role of public health spokesperson, making the anti-vaccination campaign largely faceless. Very few publicly endorse vaccination or acknowledge acceptance, even if league numbers suggest that many more have been vaccinated. Most don’t want to talk about it.

In May, NBA superstar LeBron James righteously refuses to answer questions about whether he had been vaccinated, saying, “Whatever that nature is all the family says.” Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaq Barrett SAYS he and his wife received vaccinations, but for the encouragement of teammates, “for each of them. I don’t know why people don’t get it, but whatever makes you comfortable, whatever helps you sleep at night, you do that. ”

Zachary Binney, a sports epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta, believes pro athletes are no different than the rest of us when it comes to vaccines: “A lot of them are vaccinated. Many of them are ready to be vaccinated. Some of them have concerns. And some of them just don’t do it – and they don’t do it. ”

In fact, most teams are doing well by overall US standards. More than 70% of NFL and NBA players are at least vaccinated, according to reports. That puts the same rates in leagues higher than young adults in the U.S. as a whole.

Some players may be reluctant to speak out, according to Binney, because the vaccine is politicized that fans could lose by standing in a way – a fire from the 1950s, starting in the country in March. in the country’s Dimes. campaign for polio vaccination with support from ballplayers like Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson.

The country is united in viewing polio as a disaster, while many conservatives are down from the coronavirus. Also, the risks of COVID increase with aging. Professional athletes are always in high physical condition and rarely visit the doctor outside of training.

The lack of leadership in sports teams on the issue is a significant pitfall for those pushing for higher vaccination rates, and it can also damage the chances of success in their own locker rooms, according to Binney.

“One of the things we know is that people, not just athletes, are more likely to get vaccinated if the people around them are vaccinated,” he said. “If your locker room leaders don’t speak up, or if they mostly share concerns or misinformation, that all has an impact on the numbers.”

The NFL sets heavy bans on undefeated players-they must be tested daily and wear masks at team facilities, and cannot leave the hotel when they are on the road- while most lifted restrictions on those who received their shot.

Teams and unions inform players about the risks and benefits of vaccines, even bringing in experts to meet with players. In a recent media call, Dr. Thom Mayer, director of the NFL players medical association, said players contacted him with all sorts of questions about vaccines, including part of rare reports. inflammation of the heart on young men post-mRNA vaccination, how long antibodies can last in their systems and whether the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of emergency use of vaccines means they are less tested than fully licensed products.

“They are serious, thoughtful questions that deserve serious and thoughtful answers,” Mayer SAYS at the time of the call. “I’ll tell you what our players say: They’re grown men. You give them real mature asses and they’ll decide.”

For the NFL, the urgency of the upcoming football season could push vaccination rates up. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball, reported on June 25 that 23 of the 30 teams have already reached the 85% standard, leading to the lifting of the bans – but it is recognized that efforts to get more teams to that level have begun to stall despite months of advocacy. .

“I can’t think about other leagues, but baseball is a mix of people with different opinions on everyone,” said Jerry Blevins, 37, who retired in April after a 13 -year career in MLB as a in the pitcher. Blevins got his first dose the first day it was available for him.

But some star athletes, now and then, stand out.

Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera agreed serve as spokesperson for Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s effort to offer vaccination. Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell, 87, was vaccinated and records a public service notice on behalf of the NBA, as did San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and fellow Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Women’s basketball is in a league of its own, vaccine -wise, according to WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. Its campaign was led by the players ’union, which began providing information and addressing concerns to its members in a series of video conferences in December, before vaccines were readily available.

What came out of the talks was the players ’better understanding of risk to outsize of COVID infection and mortality for Black women, which comprise at least 70% of the league’s roster. By April, the stars from the league were already showing up at a public service notice urges vaccination with the slogan “Our health deserves to be taken away,” and specifically attracted Black women. And they themselves receive the vaccine.

No other league, however, appears to have discovered such a catalyst, and the numbers show it.

“It’s a different decision for everyone,” according to the 49ers ’Shanahan. Pro athletes, rarely have a mind, also disagree on this topic.

Originally published on Kaiser Health News.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Children’s Health Defense.

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