The majority of NFL coaches are still fence-sitting on the issue of Covid-19 vaccination, afraid to rock the boat with their teams and their fans. Guys like Sean McDermott in Buffalo have remained relatively quiet while his players, like Cole Beasley lead the anti-vax charge — but in Washington Ron Rivera is fed up.
Rivera is at far more risk than any other head coach in the NFL. While the issue of player vaccination is primarily about wins and losses for most of the league, to Rivera it’s a matter of life and death. He underwent chemotherapy and proton treatments for skin cancer in 2020, beating the disease — but leaving him immunocompromised as a result. Last month Rivera expressed his dismay at the low vaccination rate of Washington players, and while the situation improved, now he’s fed up.
Speaking to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, Rivera didn’t mince his words about the approach towards science he’s seen take hold during the pandemic.
“Gen Z is relying on this,” said Rivera, now holding up his phone. “And you got some, quite frankly, f------ a-------, that are putting a bunch of misinformation out there, leading people to die. That’s frustrating to me, that these people are allowed to have a platform. And then, one specific news agency, every time they have someone on, I’m not a doctor, but the vaccines don’t work. Or, I’m not an epidemiologist, but vaccines are going to give you a third nipple and make you sterile. Come on. That, to me? That should not be allowed.”
Rivera said that his cancer treatment made him more intimately aware of the science behind health care, and the plight of the less fortunate when it came to health care in the United States. Now he’s trying to impress on his players the importance of getting vaccinated, not just for themselves — but having the basic human courtesy of helping protect those who are most vulnerable. Rivera’s impact on Washington worked, raising the vaccination rate of players on his team from 55 percent earlier in the summer to 84 percent now.
Still, the Washington Football Team coach knows there’s a lot more work to be done.
“There’s enough positive science out there, if they’re going to tell me that over 600,000 people have died and 99.9% are people that were not vaccinated, well, what about the .1%? Well, that .1% are people that had underlying conditions—old age, something else. It’s not young, healthy people. So I don’t know why. And then they talk about all this distrust, well, if half the world wants it and can’t get it, what’s the problem with us? It frustrates me.”
Rivera refuses to be complicit in a public health crisis by pretending he has no strong feelings on the issue, like the majority of NFL coaches. Unafraid to rock the boat, he’s taking the line of compatriots Mike Zimmer and Pete Carroll, both of whom have been huge advocates for the vaccination effort. So far the push is working, and it’s protecting their teams, players, and society as a whole — even if it causes friction in the locker room. Facing down the misguided fear and misinformation of the vaccine is true bravery, and people like Rivera deserve every bit of credit for doing it.