Former NFL star and pro-life activist Ben Watson said he believes professional athletes should be allowed to not get vaccinated, provided they follow COVID-19 guidelines such as masking and getting tested.
Watson posted a short video on Facebook Sunday showing an interview he had with ABC's "Good Morning America," in which he was asked about his views on mandatory vaccination.
“I feel strongly about the right of players to make their own decisions concerning the COVID-19 vaccine. I also understand the importance of protecting the health and safety of the locker room and staff,” said Watson in the post.
“But it is disingenuous for the NFL to impose disparate penalties for players/clubs during outbreaks based solely on vaccination status, while simultaneously claiming to support player decisions. That is coercion and it’s obvious.”
Watson, who serves as vice president of the NFL Players Association, was asked by "GMA" what position the union he represents had on the matter.
He responded by noting that the NFLPA joined the NFL in supporting “protocols such as masking, contact tracing, social distancing” and touted their effectiveness in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“And so, if a player does not want to get vaccinated, we will stand behind him 100 percent,” said Watson, adding that “players need to have agency when it comes to what they decide to put in their bodies.”
Nevertheless, Watson also went on to warn that “certain decisions always have consequences” and that players who don't get vaccinated “will be subject to the same rules as last year when it comes to coming into team facilities,” including the wearing of masks and social distancing.
“You’re not going to have to get vaccinated, and it’s important that players understand that they still have that right to decide what to do,” he added.
Recently, it has been reported that sizable minorities of many professional sports teams, both in the NFL and other leagues, were opting out of taking the vaccines.
A report by Kaiser Health News, for example, found that 58% of San Francisco 49ers players were vaccinated, compared to 76% of the surrounding community.
The official goal for NFL teams is 85%, which is considered the threshold for having a locker room purportedly protected from spreading COVID-19, according to Kaiser Health.
Last Friday, The Associated Press reported that the vaccination rate for NFL players was on the rise, with an estimated 80% of all players in the league being vaccinated.
The rate included nine teams having 90% or more of their roster vaccinated, while five teams had fewer than 70% of their players getting at least one shot.
“I think we are off to an excellent start,” said Dr. Allen Sills, medical director at the NFL, as quoted by the AP. “Those numbers are much higher than what we're seeing in society as a whole.”
“There has been a lot of movement in that area. As you see players coming to training camp, you will see more players beginning that process [of vaccination].”
Studies of the vaccines have shown varying rates of effectiveness from contracting the virus and its variants, from 39% to 64% to 88%. However, the vaccines are expected to reduce the severity of infection and reduce the likelihood of hospitalization for many people.
Other studies have shown that people who've already been infected have natural immunity that might last a lifetime.