RICHMOND — After struggling to get players vaccinated, the Washington Football Team is having trouble containing the virus.
Washington placed All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff and tackle David Sharpe on the NFL’s COVID-19 reserve list — bringing the franchise’s total to six players who are now sidelined in training camp because of protocols. In addition to the two linemen, wide receiver Curtis Samuel, cornerback Chris Miller, defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis and tackle Cornelius Lucas are on the list. A player who goes on the list has either tested positive for the virus or has been deemed a close contact to someone who has it.
According to the NFL, 19 teams have at least 90% of their players receive one dose of the vaccine. But Washington’s percentage, by comparison, hovered around 60% as of last Monday, though the rate has since climbed to at least 70%.
Coach Ron Rivera said Saturday that more players received the vaccine this week, but when talking to reporters after practice, he expressed concern that the team’s overall number on the reserve list continues to increase.
“I mentioned it to our guys, Here’s is the what-if scenario: ‘What if this had been game day Sunday for the opener?” Rivera said. “Even though it’s contact tracing for some of them, that’s five days (sidelined). … To me, it brings the reality of what the rules are. I hope it helps. But again, these young men have to make their decisions.”
As of Saturday morning, Washington is believed to have the second-most players on the COVID-19 reserve list — behind only the Arizona Cardinals, who have nine.
Rivera has pleaded for his team to get vaccinated, even calling them out in press conferences. As training camp opened, Rivera said he was “beyond frustrated” with the low vaccination rates and revealed he was immune deficient. Rivera, who battled cancer last season, often wears a mask around people just in case.
Players have largely avoided saying why they are reluctant to get the vaccine, refusing to even confirm they’re unvaccinated. Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins seemed to express reluctance over possible long-term side effects, writing in a now-deleted tweet that his girlfriend’s brother experienced heart problems after getting the shot. While the CDC has acknowledged there have been reported cases of heart inflammation mostly in people 30 and under, such cases are rare.
As part of the league’s protocols, unvaccinated players must wear masks at walkthrough and indoors. On Friday, Scherff sported a mask when talking to reporters. Though he could have been wearing one as a precaution, Scherff did not disclose if he was vaccinated.
On Saturday, Scherff was pulled off the field just prior to the start of practice and went back into the facility.
“It’s a personal decision for me,” Scherff said Friday. “It’s a personal decision for everybody. Nobody’s made a deal of it. You know, we’re all here to play football and that’s what we’re doing.”
Rivera said Washington has players who have appointments to get vaccinated on Sunday through one of the team’s medical providers. The coach said he was waiting to see if they would show up.
Rivera expressed concern over the competitive disadvantage caused by the number of cases. He said not only would coaches and scouts struggle to get a full evaluation of the roster, but said the missed time would be difficult on the sidelined players.
He added that because of Washington’s schedule — the team opens the season on Sept. 12 against the Los Angeles Chargers and then faces the New York Giants on “Thursday Night Football” — anyone who tested positive near the opener would likely be ineligible for the following game, as well.
“It is a difficult topic,” Rivera said. “ I have tried to broach it with a lot of our players and have talked with a lot of our guys that haven’t. It is a personal thing, but hopefully, we can sway it. Hopefully.”