ASHBURN | Antonio Gandy-Golden had, what he calls, “the O.G.” This was back in spring 2020 when the coronavirus started to ravage the U.S. and the Washington wide receiver got sick. He had sniffles and headaches.
So when the vaccine became available, Gandy-Golden figured he was fine without it. He already had the antibodies from the virus, he said. He was one of the many Washington players to show up to training camp unvaccinated.
He changed his mind.
Gandy-Golden said Monday that he recently got vaccinated, citing the team’s information push and eagerness to relax COVID-19 protocols. Unvaccinated players have to follow stricter rules than vaccinated players, such as having to wear a mask inside the team facility at nearly all times and travel on a separate plane.
The 2020 fourth-rounder said he wants to “keep everybody safe” and not worry about it anymore.
“But I started reading around and just thinking [how] coaches are bringing these experts in to talk to us,” Gandy-Golden said. “I said, ‘OK, they are obviously putting a lot of time into this, so it’s obviously pretty serious.”
Gandy-Golden’s decision is one that coach Ron Rivera likely hopes trickles down to the rest of the team. So far into camp, seven players have been forced to go on the league’s COVID-19 reserve list — meaning they tested positive or were exposed to someone who had it. Rivera said he was “beyond frustrated” with the hesitancy, though the team’s vaccination rate has slowly increased over the past few weeks.
As of July 16, less than 50% of Washington’s players had received at least one dose of the vaccine. That number has since risen to at least 70%. Washington had a number of players get the vaccine during the team’s off day on Sunday, Rivera said.
“It was a good step in the right direction,” Rivera said, “and we’re continuing to trend up.”
Gandy-Golden said he was initially worried about the side effects of the vaccine, concerned whether they could cause him to miss time. But the 23-year-old said he saw other players — those much older than him — get the vaccine without problems. Sure enough, when Gandy-Golden went ahead with his decision, the receiver said he wasn’t bothered by it.
The cynic, of course, could suggest Gandy-Golden only got his vaccine as a way to try to further ensure he would have a roster spot. There’s been speculation that unvaccinated players on the bubble could be cut when rosters have to be trimmed down — and Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane admitted to such thinking before getting reprimanded by the league. After a quiet rookie year, Gandy-Golden needs to have a solid camp given the deep wide receiver competition for Washington this year.
Rivera said no roster decision would be based on a player’s vaccination rate.
“We know we’re going to have guys coming into the regular season that are unvaccinated,” Rivera said. “And so if that’s the case, if it comes down to it, we’re going to take who we think is the best player that gives us a chance to win. … That’s just the way it’s going to be.”
Rivera has pleaded with players in an attempt to persuade them. He revealed to reporters last week that he’s immune deficient, and his cancer battle last season is well known.
Gandy-Golden said he feels like teammates are starting to listen.
“I feel like everybody will eventually come around,” Gandy-Golden said. “We’re a pretty strong team, and if not, most of us will come around and we’ll be able to lift those restrictions for most people.”