Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera brought in Harvard immunologist Kizzmekia S. Corbett to speak with his players on Tuesday night, giving them a forum to ask questions and educate themselves about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Rivera said Wednesday that all of Washington's "Tier 1" staffers (who directly work with players) are vaccinated and that nearly 50% of the players have been vaccinated as well, a number he is hoping to improve.
"We're trying to gather as much information, allow the players to get as much information so they can make a choice, a decision," Rivera said. "We actually had one of the vaccine experts speak to one of our players last night. Our players were engaged. They asked a lot of good questions. ... I think the big thing is we've got to facilitate the opportunity for these guys to understand."
The conversation Tuesday night was a success, as Rivera said it led to multiple players getting vaccinated or who will be getting vaccinated soon.
However, there is still some hesitancy surrounding the vaccine in Washington's locker room. Pass rusher Montez Sweat said he was "not a fan" of the meeting and that he still doesn't plan on getting the vaccine as of now.
"I probably won't get vaccinated until I've got more facts and all that type of stuff, but I'm not a fan of it at all," Sweat said. "I mean, I haven't caught COVID yet, so I don't see me treating COVID until I actually get COVID."
Sweat said the decision to get the vaccine or not is a "constant conversation" that he and his peers have "all the time." And while he understands why Rivera and the coaches are pushing for players to get vaccinated, he stressed that it's a personal choice at the end of the day.
"I mean, obviously [the coaches] want everybody to be vaccinated to move more freely around the facility and around with traveling and all that type of stuff," Sweat said. "But everybody has their own beliefs and they're entitled to their own decision."
Rivera, who received his vaccine shortly after he became eligible earlier this year, has stressed to his players the benefits the team will have if a certain number of players become vaccinated. The NFL, like all of the other major American sports, is expected to lighten its COVID-19 protocols based on the number of players that do get vaccinated.
"We're trying to stress the fact that if we can get to herd immunity, we'll really be able to get out there and enjoy things," Rivera said. "So hopefully that happens."
Shortly after Sweat spoke, offensive lineman Saahdiq Charles was asked about the vaccine, too. Charles said he enjoyed the conversation on Tuesday and told local reporters he's already been vaccinated.
“It’s always good to learn new knowledge," Charles said. "We're a little sheltered in our football world. I learned a lot about the vaccine that I didn’t know.”
Rookie wide receiver Dax Milne also said he thought the meeting Tuesday was beneficial and that while he has not been vaccinated yet, the conversation helped clear up a lot of his concerns about the vaccine.
"I don't want to speak out of turn, but it sounded a lot more safe than we thought it was, so I think we're all feeling more safe about it now," Milne said.