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Many Chicago Bears players remain indecisive about whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine

Many Chicago Bears players remain indecisive about whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine

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Chicago Bears

Bears wide receiver Damiere Byrd (10) runs a drill during OTAs on June 9, 2021, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.

For the first time since the end of the 2019 season, Matt Nagy on Wednesday ran a Chicago Bears practice at Halas Hall without wearing a mask. Fully vaccinated and more than ready to move back toward a more normal existence, Nagy was refreshed to be less restricted at the Bears’ latest session of organized team activities.

“I woke up this morning and I was pretty fired up to not have to put that thing on,” Nagy said of his mask. “I left it in my car and I walked into work. It’s just different when you see peoples’ expressions and when you talk to them when you’re out on the field or in meetings.”

Bears players joked about the chance to see the full faces of their coaches again.

“A lot of ugly people,” tight end Cole Kmet quipped.

Added receiver Darnell Mooney: “There were some faces I saw that were more handsome than I thought.”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it seems.

Still, beneath those lighthearted and playful cracks, a layer of COVID-19 complexity is lurking around the NFL as the quest to get players vaccinated before training camps being next month drags on. Despite an emphatic push from the league and the NFL Players Association plus encouragement from team medical staffs leaguewide, the willingness of players to obtain the vaccine remains spotty.

With more versatile players available in the backfield, the Chicago Bears can withstand any slower start Tarik Cohen might have after he finishes rehabbing from last year's ACL tear.

On Wednesday, four Bears who spoke with the media offered a snapshot of what seems to be happening with players all over the map with their vaccine viewpoints.

Bears center Sam Mustipher said he recently received his first dose of the vaccine and is scheduled to get the second shot next week.

“I just want to play ball,” Mustipher said. “That’s what I love to do. If getting the vaccine means I’m going to be out there no matter what, then I’m going to do it.”

Mooney said he “should be getting (the vaccine) shortly” and expressed eagerness to do so.

Kmet, however, dodged a direct question about whether he would get vaccinated. “I’m going to keep that private,” he said.

And running back Damien Williams relayed his hesitancy.

“I really haven’t made a decision on that yet,” Williams said. “Right now, you really just want to do your studying on it and seeing the pros and cons.”

Williams, for what it’s worth, opted out of the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision he said he made to help protect his mom, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Williams was asked Wednesday from where he’s seeking his information about the vaccine in order to make an informed decision for himself and his family.

“Just asking around, looking online,” he said. “I like to really know what’s going on and what’s what before deciding on putting anything in my body”

Chicago Bears

Bears coach Matt Nagy shouts directions during OTAs on June 9, 2021, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.

Nagy, who was forced to coach from home during rookie minicamp in May after being identified as a high-risk close contact of a relative with COVID-19, said Wednesday that the Bears continue to encourage players to get vaccinated and have pushed to make resources available to educate anyone with questions.

“We all have our own opinions on what we want to do and not do,” Nagy said. “But if you understand the education of it and if we encourage (the vaccine) — which is what we’re doing — then we can all make our own decisions and decide to get it.”

That stance is in line with the push from the top of the NFL, which continues to stress the need for players to truly understand the vaccine and its benefits through the eyes of medical experts rather than hard-to-validate speculation and rumor on social media.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended COVID-19 vaccination for all adults, praising the safety of the three vaccines readily available in the United States and emphasizing how vaccines greatly reduce the chances of contracting COVID-19 and the chances of becoming severely ill if infected.

“We do think players and all personnel are safer if they’re vaccinated,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said late last month. “I think that is true throughout our country and throughout our world. I don’t know of a single medical source that is respected that doesn’t believe that and doesn’t believe that vaccines not only work and are effective but are also safe.”

Yet for whatever reason, a mistrust of expertise and a skepticism toward authority still seems to be swirling throughout the NFL — as it is in society as a whole.

Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera recently invited respected immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett to speak to his team to answer vaccine-related questions. Rivera said on a Zoom call Wednesday that Corbett’s presentation was “outstanding” and that her message helped convince a handful of players to get the vaccine.

Still, Rivera acknowledged that only about half his players have been vaccinated. And in a later Zoom call, Washington defensive end Montez Sweat remained skeptical of the vaccine.

“I’m not a fan of it at all,” Sweat told reporters. “I won’t get vaccinated until I get more facts. … I haven’t caught COVID yet, so I don’t see me treating COVID until I actually get COVID.”

That’s the kind of uphill battle many teams still seem to be facing months after the vaccine became so widely available and with the opening of training camp just about seven weeks away.

In April, Bears receiver Allen Robinson said he was undecided on whether to get vaccinated.

“I’m not opposed to it,” Robinson said then. “But I’m still gathering some research on the different vaccines. And if I did get one, which one do I want to get and stuff like that.”

Last week, offensive tackle Germain Ifedi touted the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines, speaking with passion and sincerity about their ability to reduce COVID-19-related illnesses and deaths and aid in pushing society back toward a more normal state.

“For getting COVID-19 under control, we just needed that,” Ifedi said. “The numbers have said it has saved a lot of lives. The amount of deaths has come down, and that’s what we want, ultimately, no matter what anyone’s opinion is on it.”

Yet when asked if he had been vaccinated, Ifedi said he hadn’t.

Chicago Bears

Bears running back David Montgomery carries the ball during a drill at OTAs on June 9, 2021, at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.

“I haven’t gotten around to it,” he said. “It’s something I do plan on sitting down and really exploring soon, just looking into it, getting deep into information on it and then making an informed decision.”

The NFL and the players union continue encouraging players to get vaccinated and have added incentives, removing safety-related restrictions for those who do. Vaccinated players, for example, will no longer have to go through daily COVID-19 testing or wear masks at team facilities when training camps begin. In addition, they’ll also be allowed to dine together in the cafeteria and visit with vaccinated family members while on team trips.

Unvaccinated players, meanwhile, still might be forced to quarantine and miss time if they are exposed to anyone who tests positive for COVID-19.

“We don’t love waking up every day and getting tested,” Ifedi said. “We don’t love having to wear masks around the building all day. It can be a grind. Some incentives never hurt.”

They don’t always help though either. And while Nagy said he expected his entire coaching staff to be fully vaccinated by the start of camp next month, there’s no telling how many Bears players still will be holding out at that point and how that might inhibit the team’s return to a pre-pandemic operation.

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