About 70 percent of N.F.L. players are Black, a racial group that is already suspicious of the vaccine and has limited access to it, and whose members are killed by the virus at a higher rate. Only 41 percent of those who have received the vaccine nationally are people of color, according to the C.D.C. and the Kaiser Family Foundation. The distrust among some N.F.L. players mimics societal trends, Golden said.
“We don’t know their experiences growing up or interacting with the health care system,” Golden said. “Just because they are athletes doesn’t mean their lived experience doesn’t have influence, and I think we have to acknowledge that.”
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The Denver Broncos were one of the first teams in the N.F.L. to vaccinate 85 percent of their players, thanks to a lot of education, discussion and communication, said George Paton, the team’s general manager.
Last season, Dr. Michelle Barron, the senior medical director of infection prevention at UCHealth, advised the franchise on Covid-related issues. As the vaccine became widely available this spring, she led informational sessions with the team and privately with players’ families if requested. She also helped coordinate a vaccine clinic in April at the Broncos’ facility. Their vaccination rate did not surprise her, she said.
“From the feedback I got, the important thing for them was to feel like they had the information, for them to be able to digest and then come back and ask smart questions,” Barron said in an interview Thursday.
As training camp progresses, unvaccinated players battling for roster spots may face challenges. Beasley said in a news conference that unvaccinated young players have told him they fear they may be cut. Ballard, the Colts general manager, said that those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, but that the question of vaccination did make the process harder, especially for free agents whose unvaccinated status would mean they’d have to be tested more often. Regardless, he said he would try to evaluate fairly.
“Whoever wins the job on the field, that’s who’s making the team,” Ballard said. “I’m not going to take a player just because he’s vaccinated that hadn’t won the job. What message are you sending to your locker room?”