From searches of the Nexis newspaper database and Google News, and conversations with beat reporters and PR directors, by my count 21 of 34 potential starting NFL quarterbacks (including QB battles in Denver and New Orleans, and not counting rookies who might challenge veterans but haven’t yet been named starters) have been asked about the COVID-19 vaccine in some capacity this season: whether they themselves are vaccinated, or whether they are using their leadership positions to promote the vaccine among teammates.
Joe Burrow said last week that players getting vaccinated is beneficial to the team, but he’s not pushing for it or talking about it too much with his teammates. Matt Ryan did a Q&A video with a doctor from Emory Healthcare about the vaccine all the way back in January. In April, Patrick Mahomes said he got vaccinated to protect his baby daughter.
Kirk Cousins and Lamar Jackson both declined to reveal their vaccination status when asked in June, and both are now on the COVID reserve list.
Russell Wilson and his wife Ciara appeared in an hour-long vaccine PSA that aired on NBC. Dak Prescott cited HIPAA—incorrectly—when he declined to reveal his vaccination status as the Cowboys kicked off training camp at the end of July. Josh Allen said he was still thinking about the vaccine in April, then said he would not discuss it again this season after reporters followed up in May.
The stars of the league have been asked to weigh in on the vaccine, and their responses have been revealing. So far, only nine starting quarterbacks have publicly confirmed that they are vaccinated. Meanwhile, the NFL and NFLPA are making very public pushes to get players vaccinated. Coaches are venting and pleading, and even Maryland’s governor has urged Jackson to get vaccinated. Quarterbacks, as team leaders, are crucial in this push. Their opinions on this topic are something we should care about, and based on the fact that most have been asked, it’s something we do care about.
Curiously, one voice, that of the NFL’s single most famous player, has been missing from the vaccine conversation. Tom Brady has yet to be asked.
Brady did not attend OTAs, so he was not available to the media during May and June. He’s only had one press conference in training camp so far, a seven-minute affair where he asked about a potential Super Bowl hangover and his offseason knee surgery, but not his vaccination status. He was noticeably prickly in that press conference. “You guys are catching me on a bad day today,” he told reporters. “We had a really shitty practice.”
So Brady wasn’t in a good mood—so what? Brady’s opinion on the vaccine matters more than most, not just because he’s famous, but because this is a man who follows an extremely restrictive diet and who says he is hyper-aware of anything and everything he puts into his body. He won’t even eat tomatoes! And Brady is heavily reliant for training and medical advice on Alex Guererro, who has twice been investigated by government regulators for misrepresenting himself as a doctor, and falsely asserting that a supplement he sold was clinically proven to cure cancer, Parkinson’s, and AIDS. Brady, whose parents both had COVID last year and whose dad was hospitalized for three weeks, has some unconventional ideas when it comes to medicine and health, and it would only be natural—and interesting!—to ask how those ideas informed his vaccine choice.
The vaccine question never came up during Brady’s offseason activities, and he wasn’t hiding away at his favorite Montana ski resort the whole time either. He golfed in The Match, appeared on LeBron James’s TV show The Shop, and went to the White House, where President Biden made an appeal for the vaccine after congratulating the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl team. The Buccaneers’ PR staff told me that to their knowledge, Brady has not been asked about the vaccine.
I myself haven’t asked Brady because the Buccaneers are holding the majority of their player press conferences in person this year, instead of virtually. Last season, any reporter could log in to a video press conference and virtually raise their hand. This season, I would have to travel to Tampa and hope to be among the select group of 25 reporters to qualify as tier 2M, the group of media who can speak to players in person. The Buccaneers have not yet scheduled Brady’s next availability, so advance planning is a challenge. As of press time, Brady’s agent Don Yee had not returned my email asking about Brady’s vaccination status.
The only other quarterback near Brady’s level of influence and fame that hasn’t been asked about the vaccine is Aaron Rodgers, who, like Brady, was also absent from OTAs. Rodgers has met with reporters twice since training camp started, but unlike Brady, has met with the media indoors and without a mask on, which implies that he has been vaccinated or he’d face a $14,650 fine.
The Buccaneers are using colored wristbands to distinguish vaccinated players from unvaccinated players while indoors (red for vaccinated, yellow for unvaccinated), but players don’t have to wear the wristbands outside at practice where reporters can watch, though some leave their wristbands on. In the most recent Getty Images photos from training camp, Brady is not wearing a wristband, though Cameron Brate (above) and Mike Evans are photographed wearing red ones.
There’s one visible clue to point to Brady’s vaccination status: He didn’t wear a mask in his only press conference at training camp, which took place outdoors, while unvaccinated Bucs players have either kept their masks on during interviews, or removed them right at the microphone. Maybe Bucs reporters aren’t prioritizing this question because they already know the answer, but there’s still value in hearing what Brady has to say about it.
The vaccine is an indisputable competitive advantage for a football team, and Tom Brady’s brand is that he will do anything to win. Does that mean he’ll try to convince the hesitant Leonard Fournette to get vaccinated? Does he see that as part of his job?
On a practical level, asking Brady about the vaccine is no different than asking him about his knee rehab—it’s a question about the preventative medical steps he’s taking to lessen his chances of missing time during the season. Do NFL reporters see that as part of their jobs?
Somebody should consider asking.