Sports | September 1, 2021 1:53 pm

Note to NFL Players: Your Vaccination Status 100% Matters This Season

Don't let Bill Belichick tell you any differently

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches Cam Newton, who has been cut, warm up
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches Cam Newton, who has been cut, warm up.
Kathryn Riley/Getty

A day after cutting Cam Newton, Bill Belichick addressed reporters and said, with a straight face, that the 32-year-old quarterback not being vaccinated against COVID-19 had nothing to do with the team’s decision to let him go.

“No. Look, you guys keep talking about that,” Belichick told reporters on Wednesday morning. “I would just point out that I don’t know what the number is, but the number of players, coaches and staff members that have been affected by COVID in this training camp — who have been vaccinated — is a pretty high number. So I wouldn’t lose sight of that.”

Putting aside Belichick changing the topic by citing vaccinated NFL personnel and players testing positive for COVID-19 (which was only the case with eight of the 68 players and staff to test positive between August 1-21), his claim that cutting Newton had zero to do with him not being vaxxed is a bigger crock than the 69-year-old coach saying benching Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagle was in the best interests of the team.

Was Newton, who missed three key days of practice last week after a “misunderstanding” about testing protocol, refusing to get the vaccine the only reason he got cut? No. But to say it wasn’t a factor is just ridiculous.

For proof, look no further than first-year Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer admitting that he and general manager Trent Baalke took a player’s vaccination status into consideration during final roster cuts due to the likelihood of unvaccinated players missing time due to the more stringent COVID-19 protocols that are imposed on unvaccinated players who test positive or are identified as high-risk close contacts.

“Everyone was considered,” Meyer said. “That was part of the [considerations such as] production, let’s start talking about this, and also is he vaccinated or not? Can I say that that was a decision-maker? It was certainly in consideration.” (The Jaguars have since released a completely bogus statement saying the opposite.)

While dumb to say publicly, Meyer’s comments, which did not go over well with the NFL Players Association and have led the NFLPA to open an investigation, are the reality in the NFL this season. When forced to choose between borderline players on the roster bubble on cutdown day, most coaches and GMs likely went with a vaccinated player over an unvaccinated one. And, when they are faced with similar decisions during the season when selecting between free agents to fill vacant roster spots, that decision will likely be the same. Why? Just look at the policy, per ESPN.

“Unvaccinated players are tested daily, and those who test positive must miss 10 days, and there is then a three-day return-to-play protocol. Unvaccinated players designated as high-risk close contacts must test immediately. If they test negative they still must miss five days and can return on Day 6. If they test positive, they must go through the 10-day quarantine and three-day return-to-play protocol.”

In addition to worrying about a game plan, keeping the team motivated and holding onto their job, why would any coach want to deal with that popsicle headache if they didn’t have to? It’s easy: they wouldn’t. The sooner Newton and other unvaccinated NFL players who are currently without a team and want to rectify that situation realize that simple reality, the better off — and more likely to be employed as a professional football player —they’ll be.