ASHBURN — The uphill battle to reach the unvaccinated population, particularly Black Americans, played itself out in the Washington Football Team building this week.
Washington coach Ron Rivera, one of the league’s few minority head coaches, has been a vocal advocate for the COVID vaccine since he received it shortly after it was made available to him.
Rivera said Wednesday that of the team’s 91 players, nearly 50% have received the vaccine, something he hoped to improve on. He brought in an immunologist from Harvard, Kizzmekia S. Corbett, to speak to the team on Tuesday night.
The NFL, like other major sports, eases restrictions on teams as more players get vaccinated.
However, the resistance he faces was also evident, as linebacker Montez Sweat shared with reporters that he doesn’t plan to get the vaccine.
“I’m not a fan of it,” he said. “I probably won’t get vaccinated until I’ve got more facts and all that type of stuff, but I’m not a fan of it at all.
“I mean, I haven’t caught COVID yet, so I don’t see me treating — I don’t see me treating COVID until I actually get COVID.”
He said it’s a topic of conversation in the team’s locker room.
“I mean, we talk about it all the time amongst our peers and all that type of stuff,” he said. “A lot of it is what’s going on today. So yeah, it’s a constant conversation we always talk about.
“I mean, obviously they want everybody to be vaccinated to move more freely around the facility and around with traveling and all that type of stuff. Everybody has their own beliefs and they’re entitled to their own decision.”
All of Washington’s “Tier 1” staffers, who work with the players, have been vaccinated. So far players have not been mandated to receive it.
Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio retweeted a since-debunked video this offseason that spread incorrect information about the coronavirus.
Asked by The Athletic about his beliefs earlier this year, he said: “I have personal views that would probably not sit well with my professional occupation right now. I think I’ll just leave it like that.”
Rivera said he’ll work to correct misconceptions through information. In Virginia, where 19% of the population is Black, they represent just 15% of all vaccinated people.
Rivera said Tuesday night’s presentation has already led to “several guys” choosing to receive the vaccine.
“There’s a lot of messaging that’s out there, they get it off of Twitter and some of it is good, some of it is bad,” the coach said. “I’m not sure if these guys watch the news as much as I do and try to gather enough information, but we are really trying to help them, because if we can get to that herd immunity we can really cut it loose and really be able to spend time with each other.”
Washington Receiver Dax Milne, who said he has not received the vaccine yet, said he appreciated the informational session organized by Rivera.
“I don’t want to speak out of turn, but it sounded a lot more safe than we thought it was, so I think we’re all feeling more safe about it now,” he said.