Six months after the Ravens endured one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in sports, over half of the team is vaccinated, coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday, raising hopes that virus-related protocols can be eased by the start of the season.
In a virtual news conference after the first of two days of mandatory minicamp, Harbaugh declined to specify what share of the Ravens on the team’s 90-man roster have been vaccinated, but said “it’s a pretty high number, pretty well above 50%.”
The Ravens’ coaching staff is fully vaccinated, along with general manager Eric DeCosta, but team officials have maintained that they would leave the decision up to players.
“I think everybody makes that choice for themselves,” Harbaugh said Tuesday. “That’s what I told the guys last night: It’s your individual decision. There are things that go with being vaccinated. There are things that go with not being vaccinated. So everybody understands that, and guys will make those choices for themselves.”
Half of the NFL’s 32 teams have 51 or more players vaccinated, the NFL Network reported Tuesday, while every organization’s coaching staff and team personnel are at least 90% vaccinated. In April, the league effectively mandated that all Tier 1 and 2 employees, including coaches, get vaccinated unless they had “bona fide” exemptions.
But the NFL and the NFL Players Association have not yet required vaccines for players, and the NFLPA is unlikely to pass such a rule. The league and its players’ union have not established a vaccination threshold at which a team could relax its health protocols almost entirely, either.
Harbaugh said last month that he’s spoken with his team about the implications of getting vaccinated. Under new NFL protocols, fully vaccinated players will no longer have to be tested daily, will not have to wear masks inside team facilities, will have no travel restrictions, and will not have to self-quarantine after exposure to an infected person. They can also eat in the team’s cafeteria, use the sauna, and interact with vaccinated family and friends during travel.
Unvaccinated players will have to be tested daily, wear a mask inside team facilities and self-quarantine after exposure, and will have travel and facility restrictions, among other restrictions.
Defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who twice landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list last season after close contact with COVID-positive individuals, said it was “frustrating” to miss action last season despite never contracting the virus.
“It is what it is,” Williams said. “The team did well when I was out, and hopefully I can just stay away from people and stay on the field. But I’m looking forward to doing me, staying me, staying healthy and safe, and continuing to play football the best I can, regardless of [whether] I’m in there or not. You can’t help what you can’t help. So all I can do is just make sure I’m ready always.”
At least one player tested positive for the coronavirus for 10 straight days starting in late November last season, with the Ravens placing 23 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list during that span. Team president Dick Cass said a “highly contagious” strain of the virus and noncompliance with NFL protocols led to the outbreak, which infected players and coaches, including quarterback Lamar Jackson, depleted the Ravens’ roster during a crucial midseason stretch and shook up the team’s schedule.
Defensive end Calais Campbell, who said before the season that he’d considered opting out because of health concerns relating to his moderate asthma, tested positive and later called his return to action “brutal.” He acknowledged that while he’s now vaccinated, teammates would have to decide for themselves whether they’re comfortable doing so.
“They have to do what’s best for them,” he said. “I personally am vaccinated, but to each their own. Each person has to do their own research and figure out what’s best for them in their current situation. But as a team, I think we’re working toward something great here, and I feel like everybody supports each other.”
Three months from Week 1, it remains unclear how close to normal the Ravens’ second season amid a pandemic could be. More than half of the country’s population has now received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But vaccination rates have fallen in Maryland, with about 27,000 daily shots registered over the past week.
In a letter to fans last month, Cass said the team is “optimistic” that the Ravens will have full capacity at M&T Bank Stadium this season after attendance was limited in 2020. The team hopes it’s moved past the challenges of last year, but progress has come slowly in some areas. Campbell said his COVID symptoms lingered after the season, and that he’s been “really good” for only the past couple of months.
“I still don’t wish that on anybody,” he said. “It’s just such a tough thing to go through, just because you don’t really feel like yourself. even when you pass the symptoms that everybody has. Getting back into being a professional athlete, there’s a certain level of feeling you have when you’re just ready, and COVID kind of made it a little harder to get to that good feeling. But I definitely feel a lot better now. I feel like I’m ready to go — go out there and dominate, have some fun. And I hope I stay that way.”