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It’s Time For NFL Coaches To Act Like It

Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

I think I've lost track of how many times I've seen a clip of Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer speaking to reporters about his team's low COVID-19 vaccination rate. It feels like every week there is new footage circulating social media, in which he is standing at a lectern and talking about the frustrating position his players have put him in. This week is no different.

This is what Zimmer had to say after a renowned epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert named Dr. Michael Osterholm was brought to training camp to try and talk some sense into his unvaccinated players. One would like to think that talking to Dr. Osterholm and hearing about Zimmer's personal fear of infecting his unvaccinated grandchild all on the same day would be enough to flip the remaining holdouts, but that would require you to forget just how much of an asshole Kirk Cousins can be.

It's impossible not to feel some sympathy for Zimmer. His job is ultimately to manage a workplace, and this particular workplace requires him to come into regular contact with unvaccinated colleagues who refuse to be convinced of the danger they are putting themselves and others in. That's a shitty situation for any person to be in, whether you're a shift manager at a bar or a fabulously wealthy football coach. It's also quite interesting to see an NFL head coach, someone who occupies a position that is naturally imbued with a militaristic authority, so totally disempowered by his own players. The entire mythology of the NFL head coach tells us that someone does not get that job unless they are the type of person who is willing to hold grown men accountable, make difficult and unpopular decisions, and put the needs of the team ahead of the needs of all individuals. Coaches go through great pains to reinforce that mythology, and now we are supposed to believe that the biggest muscle they can flex in the face of player insubordination is to invite some doctor to come to practice and feebly attempt to deprogram years of Facebook-induced brain poisoning?

What I'm saying is that Zimmer should bench these guys! So should Ron Rivera, and every other NFL head coach who is dealing with some number of players who refuse to get vaccinated. This is a league with a culture which demands players do exactly as they are told or risk losing their position on the field. Guys get benched for missing meetings, smoking weed, or doing anything else that might put the team's fortunes at risk. Hell, just a few weeks ago a guy got cut from his damn team for being a little bit too fat. An unvaccinated player is potentially just as harmful to his team's on-field performance as any player who sleeps through a meeting or loafs through practice, so why shouldn't he be dealt with the same way? NFL coaches are blessed with near-total authority over their team, and they can only talk about their frustration at having that authority challenged for so long before being asked why they don't do something about it themselves.

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