Whenever a player, especially the starting quarterback and/or face-of-the-franchise running back, makes a decision, it’s going to be scrutinized. For years, Panthers fans lamented Cam Newton’s theatrics during practice, saying he should be “focused on the team instead of himself.” Cam Newton was a “bad leader” because he had a towel on his head on the sidelines. One thing Cam Newton never did was make a decision that became the reason he and potentially several of his teammates missed a game or significant practice time.
Yesterday, the NFL and NFLPA released their agreed upon COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming season. Also yesterday, Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold reiterated his desire to keep his decision about getting vaccinated private, which may mean that he has decided not to be vaccinated. Shortly thereafter, Christian McCaffrey refused to comment on his vaccination status. While it is noble that both these famous athletes value their privacy, that information won’t be private for very long because the agreement that the NFL and NFLPA came to has very different rules and regulations for vaccinated versus non-vaccinated players.
These differences range from the mild personal inconvenience of having to be tested every day instead of every two weeks to the potentially team crippling quarantine after a high risk exposure. Players who are not vaccinated could run into the same situation the Denver Broncos found themselves in last season. Their entire quarterback room was deemed a high risk exposure just days before they played the New Orleans Saints. Practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton was given the reins, and that went exactly how you’d expect.
If Sam Darnold doesn’t get vaccinated, will we still be applauding his “personal choice” as the team trots out Omar Bayless under center? Vaccinated players don’t have to be quarantined after a high risk exposure, so that situation is easily avoided.
Non-vaccinated players also have to socially distance inside the facilities, and there is a limit of only 15 players in the weight room at a time if non-vaccinated players are present. There are currently just shy of 90 players that all need their time in the Panthers strength and conditioning program. If Christian McCaffrey — assuming he does not get vaccinated — is in the weight room, that means only one-sixth of the entire team can be working through their lift program at that time.
NFL lifting programs take hours every single day. Having to rotate who can and cannot be in the weight room (more so than usual) will negatively impact his teammates’ abilities to reach their full potential.
If you were someone who hated Cam Newton’s antics because he should have put the team first, it makes sense to also hate Sam Darnold and Christian McCaffrey’s decisions for the same reason. If someone makes the choice to not get the vaccine, it could negatively impact that person and countless others around them, many of whom could die (as evidenced by the 600,000 Americans who already have due to COVID). It absolutely is a personal choice to refuse the vaccine — it’s just the wrong choice for players who should be focused on the benefit of the team as a whole.