How Vaccinations Are Affecting Athletes

Mikayla Ashe, Multimedia Video Editor

Since President Biden’s vaccination mandate, many pro sports leagues have implemented mandatory safety protocols to combat the spread of the coronavirus in training and games. While pro sports leagues have mostly complied, the long-awaited return of normal sports events is to be determined, with numerous unvaccinated players remaining on the field. 

In the National Football League, the vaccine mandate requires businesses with over 100 employees to receive vaccinations and COVID tests. The NFL has mandated vaccines for coaches and staffers who work with players during practices (with exceptions for those who have medical or religious reasons). Chief Medical Officer Allan Sills discussed the NFL’s strides to test players and staffers; efforts included weekly surveillance and testings for those showing symptoms. Furthermore, the NFL has demonstrated interest in requiring all athletes to be fully vaccinated; however, the NFL Players Association declined this proposal. Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley admitted on Twitter that he would rather retire from the NFL than receive his vaccine, indicating that vaccine hesitancy still exists. Despite this, the NFL continues to promote vaccines through its social media and athletes, with all 32 teams reporting a 90% vaccination rate across players and staffers. 

Similarly, Major League Baseball has mimicked these efforts with its “Vaccine at the Plate” initiative, which incentivizes fans to receive their vaccines with a free ticket to the game. In specific, MLB star Miguel Cabrera, the first baseman of the Detroit Tigers, collaborated with Governor Gretchen Whitmer through the Protect Michigan Commission to encourage vaccination as much as possible. However, these attempts have not fully convinced people. In fact, representatives from the MLB Players Association said that its members rejected the vaccine mandate. Because of these differing opinions, MLB and its residing organizations have taken different approaches to this issue. For example, the Washington Nationals, Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles made vaccination an employment requirement, while other teams have less strict guidelines for their staff. 

In a memo distributed on Aug. 27, the National Basketball Association also required vaccinations for staffers in close proximity with players. The NBA does not require vaccination for players, but some teams managed to negotiate a dedicated area for “rapid molecular testing” for unvaccinated players on game days and practices. To continue encouraging vaccination, many stars have decided to publicly announce their stance about the mandate. Bill Russell, a retired NBA player, expressed his approval of the vaccine through a YouTube video and his eagerness to return to sports normalcy.  

Much of athletes’ hesitancy stems from a lack of information, and many unvaccinated players do not see the benefit of receiving the shot. Although pro-sports leagues have not reached 100% vaccination rates across staffers and players, they have still made great progress by adhering to safety protocols and guidelines in games and practices, regardless of personal choices. According to all three leagues, players who do not follow these protocols will suffer potential suspension and further consequences.