Bill Belichick has grumbled his way into a dispute with the league office over the COVID vaccine.
On Wednesday, Belichick shrugged his way around the obvious implication of the stunning fall of Cam Newton from starting quarterback to, eight days later, off the team. Belichick not surprisingly bristled at the suggestion that Newton’s vaccination status played a role in the move. (It surely did.)
“You guys keep talking about that, and I would just point out that I don’t know what the number is,” Belichick said. “I mean, you guys can look it up. You have the access to a lot of information, but the number of players and coaches and staff members that have been infected by COVID in this training camp [around the NFL] who have been vaccinated is a pretty high number, so I wouldn’t lose sight of that. . . . We have other players on the team who aren’t vaccinated, as I would say, probably does every other team in the league. We’ve had minimal throughout the league. There’ve been a number of, quite a high number I would say, of players who have had the virus who have been vaccinated, so your implication that vaccination solves every problem, I would say that has not been substantiated based on what’s happened in training camp [throughout the NFL] this year.”
On Friday, NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills pushed back on Belichick’s contention that “quite a high number” of vaccinated players have had the virus.
“We released our data last week from the first three weeks of August, and that data has consistently shown higher rates of infection in unvaccinated players than in vaccinated players,” Sills told Judy Battista of NFL Media, via Matt Vatour of MassLive.com. “That was true at intake when they first came into training camp and it was true during that first three-week period of August that we released. From a medical perspective, go to any major medical center in the country and as you walk around, those patients who are hospitalized, those who are in the ICU, you see the evidence the vaccines are working.”
Sills admits that some vaccinated players are getting COVID. But he points out the major reality that the anti-vaxx crowd chooses to ignore: the vaccinated recover much more quickly and are far less likely to, you know, die.
“We know that vaccines are working,” Sills said. “What we are seeing are some vaccinated people who test positive. But their illness tends to be very short and very mild, and that’s exactly what the vaccines were designed to do. Let’s all remember the vaccines were designed to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death. They’re doing a terrific job of that so far, not only in the NFL where we haven’t seen any serious cases but in society as a whole.”
Sills is right. And Belichick surely knows it. His goal was (I believe) to throw dirt on the obvious connection between Cam’s lack of vaccination and his potential lack of availability. Newton, like all unvaccinated players, was tested every day. Including game day. So if Belichick had made Cam the starter, Belichick would have had to worry about Newton testing positive the day of a game, any game. Like the game to be played in four weeks and one day against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.
Newton also had constant susceptibility to a five-day absence for having close contact with an infected person. Vaccinated players do not face such consequences this year. Also, and as the Patriots learned two weeks ago, Cam didn’t understand the very basic and simple requirement that a player must be tested every day at the team facility, which resulted in a five-day break and gave Mac Jones the chance to persuade Belichick that, all things being equal, it was better to entrust the starting job to the quarterback who could be trusted to be available for every game.
Could Jones test positive at some point? Yes, but it would happen long enough before a game begins to allow the Patriots to pivot more smoothly to Plan B. With Newton, Belichick would have constantly had to be ready, at little as a few hours before kickoff, to scrap the game plan and get Jones ready to go.
So that’s why Belichick chose to muddy the waters. Candor would have gotten him in the same spot the Jaguars now occupy, with the NFL Players Association seeking emails, text messages, and other evidence containing any direct or indirect proof that Cam got cut because he wasn’t vaccinated. Even if it was something as simple as Belichick texting to one of his sons something like, “I can’t rely on this guy unless he gets vaccinated.”