Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera has been one of the most vocal leaders within the NFL about encouraging its players to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Yet, getting his players to receive the shots has been a hard task. Washington entered training camp with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the NFL, but that number has risen significantly since.
Part of the reason some of Rivera's players -- and others around the league -- have refused to get vaccinated has to do with a lot of dangerous misinformation that has spread. Speaking with MMQB's Albert Breer, Rivera sounded off on how social media has allowed such poor information to spread.
“Gen Z is relying on [their cell phones]," Rivera said. "And you got some, quite frankly, f------ a-------, that are putting a bunch of misinformation out there, leading people to die. That’s frustrating to me, that these people are allowed to have a platform. And then, one specific news agency, every time they have someone on, I’m not a doctor, but the vaccines don’t work. Or, I’m not an epidemiologist, but vaccines are going to give you a third nipple and make you sterile. Come on. That, to me? That should not be allowed."
Rivera told Breer a story about a specific interaction with one player he had at the beginning of camp, who approached the head coach and told him that he received his second vaccine in order to protect his family and new baby.
When Rivera brought up that a new variant of the virus was spreading, the Delta Variant, that same player had no idea what it was.
“I have to be careful, I have to wear [masks],” Rivera told Breer. “We’ve had a couple situations with players already testing positive for COVID, and that scares the hell out of me, because I interact with these guys. I’m close to these guys, and sometimes I forget to put my mask on for extra insurance. I know I’m vaccinated, and I know it’s going to keep me from getting deathly ill, but I can still get it. And who knows? So I have to be careful."
Rivera brought in a vaccine expert in June to speak to players who may have had questions about the Covid vaccine. Despite that, it took his team until earlier this month to climb into having enough players vaccinated to be able to relax restrictions per NFL rules.
His conversation with Breer is far from the first time he's expressed frustration with vaccine hesitancy. In late July, as WFT's vaccine rate was reportedly among the lowest in the league, he told reporters he was "beyond frustrated."
Rivera, who is immunocompromised after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer last year, has been fully vaccinated since February. His own cancer treatment has motivated him to speak about issues in healthcare, especially the fact that the entire country is not covered despite being the richest nation in the world.
“As a person, I’ve become a little more of an advocate on things,” Rivera told Breer. “I’ve sensed and feel like I speak up a little bit more on some things. Like the medical issue—to me, it’s the craziest thing that we’re the richest country in the world and we don’t have affordable health care for everybody, that we have a health-care system that’s broken, that I got denied proton therapy [for my cancer] initially."