Update, 12:25 p.m.: After practice Jimmy Graham clarified his statements about new COVID-19 recommendations were a product of general frustration with the NFLPA over the past few years, including the move to a 17-game season.
"I’ve got a lot of guys in the NBA I know. I’ve got a lot of guys in MLB. They don’t have these situations with their PA. They’re pretty strong. At times i feel like there’s a lot of miscommunication. There’s a lot of things being done. And we have no say in it. It’s, like, crazy. This frustration is on many levels, on many things they’ve done over the past … I’m not going to hold back. I’m a grown man. And I wish somebody would talk to me and speak to me like a grown man and let me have a little bit of say in some things."
As we inch closer to the start of the preseason, the NFL’s vaccination rate among players continues to climb. According to Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post, as of Tuesday 90% of NFL players had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But with the more contagious delta variant raging across the country, and more breakthrough cases emerging, the NFL Players Association is recommending stricter protocols for players and staff again. That recommendation has led to mixed reactions, including confusion from Bears tight end Jimmy Graham.
“Was basically forced into getting the vaccine,” Graham tweeted Thursday morning. “Now I’m just confused.”
One thing at least seems clear from the past year and a half: in a global pandemic things change very quickly, and organizations and communities need to respond just as quickly.
The main thing Graham takes umbrage with is the NFLPA’s recommendation to have vaccinated players tested for COVID-19 everyday again. Currently, vaccinated players and staff only need to be tested every two weeks, with unvaccinated players requiring daily testing.
According to the NFLPA memo Graham shared, nearly half of the players and staff who tested positive for COVID-19 over the first week of training camp were vaccinated.
In addition, Graham points to increased penalties for missing a test, although the figures he quoted are not mentioned specifically in the NFLPA memo he shared.
“I’ve done everything I’ve been asked and now Feel like I’m being punished,” Graham tweeted. “If I miss a test that your [sic] proposing everyday I’ll be fined a max 150k! How does this make sense. How's the punishment 100x worse than last year and I’m vaccinated now?”
That feeling of being punished now, after more than a year of work to limit the spread of COVID-19, is probably relatable to many people across the country. For a couple of short months, things felt like they were returning to normal. But now states and cities across the U.S. have needed to reinstate mask mandates and other COVID-19 precautions due to the rise of the delta variant, and the stagnation of vaccination rates.
While this new landscape and new recommendations from the NFLPA may confuse Graham, Matt Nagy wanted to make one thing clear:
“Regardless of your status, I think it’s just for all of us to understand we’re still going through this thing,” Nagy said. “There’s gotta be great communication through all of it, and then, again, this isn’t just a football thing. This is a worldwide thing that I think we gotta all recognize is still going pretty good.
“We tried to cover that on the front end, that that stuff still could happen. We’re all still learning in this process and things change. We are not back to 2019 where things were normal. We are not there. Until everybody says it’s normal and there are going to be no issues, then the guys have to expect that. On the front end, we have to learn what the rules are per the league of fully vaccinated vs. non-vaccinated and how that works. We’re all kind of learning but I think our guys have been great so far, I really do.”
All that said, Nagy stood up for Graham’s right to voice his confusion and displeasure with the moving guidelines that have become a hallmark of life during the pandemic.
“All these guys have opinions and beliefs and I’m never going to criticize anybody for what their belief is,” Nagy said. “We all have it and we all have the ability to voice it. He has not come to me about any of that and Jimmy and I have a close enough relationship that if there is an issue that him and I would have that one-on-one.
“What we do internally is try to help them answer questions that they might have. That’s all we can do. And then we support their families too. We’ll get on zoom calls with their families and be there to answer questions for them, and in the end, you’ve got to be able to say why. Why are you telling me this? Whatever it is, just give me the why. If you’ve got the why, now you can make your decision on what you want to do, and that’s literally all you can do.”