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NFL’s Cole Beasley is no Colin Kaepernick when choosing causes to stand up for | COMMENTARY

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley (11) makes a catch during NFL football practice in Orchard Park, N.Y., Wednesday June 2, 2021. He recent announced that he'd rather retire than get vaccinated for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes).
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley (11) makes a catch during NFL football practice in Orchard Park, N.Y., Wednesday June 2, 2021. He recent announced that he'd rather retire than get vaccinated for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes). (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly said that people with weakened immune systems, autoimmune disorders, Guillain-Barre syndrome or Bell’s palsy are advised against getting the shots by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, the opposite is true; everyone in that category is able to receive the vaccine, according to the CDC. The Sun regrets the error, which resulted from a misreading of the guidance.

Baltimore Ravens fans probably don’t need any new reason to detest Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley. The 10-year veteran was among the more prominent players in the Ravens’ 17-3 season-ending loss to the Bills in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs five months ago. Yet, it no longer takes a Baltimore diehard to look down at the Houston native. For those who don’t follow NFL events in June (and more power to you seasonally appropriate sports fans), here’s the big news of the weekend: Cole Beasley is telling the world he has no intention of ever getting a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and if the league has a problem with that, he’s perfectly willing to retire. And, by the way, it’s not entirely clear he’s going to follow NFL protocols for the non-vaccinated either. “I may die of covid, but I’d rather die actually living,” he tweeted on Friday.

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Even for a sport with its share of players making poor life choices, this is especially repugnant. His argument is that he’d rather take his chances with the virus that has killed about 600,000 Americans — or enough to fill Buffalo’s Highmark Stadium for every regular season home game. And he’s apparently unhappy that unvaccinated players will have to take precautions this year that the vaccinated do not, such as wearing masks while inside the team’s facilities or while traveling.

Of course, any American has the right to refuse the vaccine. People have the right to do all sorts of self-destructive things that are not specifically illegal. But employers also have the right to require vaccination to return to the workplace. The NFL and the union that represents the players have not agreed to do so. Considering the nature of the close-contact sport — and especially the way in which the behavior of athletes is so often modeled by fans — this is unfortunate. But at least they’ve provided a path of protection with daily testing and mask mandates. It’s far worse to not just make a poor choice but to double-down and boast about it to others as Mr. Beasley has done. He’s not just endangering himself or other unvaccinated people with whom he may come in contact. He’s more broadly imperiling all those adoring fans who think a successful and highly-paid athlete must surely know what he’s talking about.

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Let’s see: an NFL player who stages a protest that the league does not condone. Haven’t we seen this before? Why, wasn’t there that Colin Kaepernick fellow, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who took a knee during pre-game performances of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to call attention to racial injustice? NFL owners seemed to have no problem blackballing him for the last four years. And that includes the Ravens, by the way. Yet this seems the far more serious transgression given the stakes of vaccination are far higher than appearing to disrespect an anthem. Right now, the vaccination rate within the U.S. has slowed from a 100-yard dash to something of a middle-aged jog and the consequences of that could prove costly as the pandemic is prolonged and variants get passed around among the unvaccinated like laterals on the field.

The NFL already lost a lot of regular season attendance (down 90%) and TV ratings (down 7%) to COVID-19 last season. Why look to alienate people now? At the recent mandatory team minicamp, Ravens coach John Harbaugh bragged about how the player vaccination rate was “well above 50%” but declined to offer the exact number. He should be embarrassed. These are professional athletes, educated men with financial resources and the best medical care available. It should be close to 100%. That a lot of other franchises are in a similar position with vaccine hesitancy makes it all the more shameful. Even Lamar Jackson, the quarterback adored by so many Baltimore area kids, refused to take a stand on vaccination when asked about it during the camp. Do they understand the potential harm they are doing? Sadly, Mr. Beasley may be the most prominent anti-vaxxer in the league, but he’s probably far from the only one. Now, that’s behavior that should upset the owners and fan base far more than defending the basic rights of African Americans should ever have done.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.

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