McDermott addressed reporters on the same day that Bills wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie shared via social media a letter he received from the league notifying the fifth-year player he was being fined for twice failing to wear a mask inside the team facility. That led to a reply in which fellow Buffalo wide receiver Cole Beasley — one of the four sent home earlier in the week — asked, “So what’s the point of the mask anyways?”
Beasley, in his 10th NFL season, has been among the league’s most outspoken critics of its coronavirus policies and of urgings from numerous sectors that as many people as possible get vaccinated.
“I may die of covid,” he declared in June, “but I’d rather die actually living.”
Since then, Buffalo offensive lineman Dion Dawkins contracted a case of covid-19 so severe he said he feared for his life while in the hospital. Around the same time, Bills tight end Tommy Sweeney shared with the media that he, too, had worried about dying from a covid-related heart condition he contracted last fall.
Nevertheless, the Bills remain among the NFL teams with the lowest rates of player vaccinations. Buffalo General Manager Brandon Beane confirmed Tuesday the Bills were around 80 percent, which is above the overall national average but notably low compared to other franchises. The NFL’s chief medical officer, Allen Sills, said Thursday nearly 93 percent of players around the league are vaccinated.
McDermott agreed Thursday with a suggestion the Bills were putting themselves at a competitive disadvantage by having more unvaccinated players than many of their opponents. Under league rules affirmed by its players’ union, Beasley and three teammates — wide receiver Gabriel Davis and defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Vernon Butler — were sidelined five days after being deemed close contacts of a team trainer who tested positive for the virus. Given that a vaccinated player would not have been subject to the five-day restriction, all four of the Bills can be presumed to be unvaccinated.
“It’s very frustrating,” said McDermott. “There’s people’s livelihoods at stake, in terms of people’s jobs, and their performance is judged off wins and losses, or how well a person does X or Y, and some of that is dependent on other members of the team. That’s why this is a team game, and being able to count on people is important.
“If this were a real week [in the regular season], having the players out that we’ve had, that makes it hard to win games that way.”
The coach, who has led the Bills to three playoff appearances in four seasons, added, “When the numbers are the numbers … some people are in a better position, potentially, than we are at this point. That being said, I respect our players’ decisions. In my personal opinion, it’s right to get vaccinated.”
In response to criticism he was receiving online, McKenzie clarified he was vaccinated. He revealed in another post he had been fined $14,650 and used a grinning emoji to convey a lighthearted tone in tweeting, “Pray for me.” That amount is a standard figure set by the NFL for most protocol violations; infractions judged to be more serious can result in fines of up to $50,000.
“Don’t worry they got me too,” Beasley said to McKenzie on Thursday in his reply. “But I was wearing a mask when I was in close contact with fully vaxxed trainer who tested positive and still got sent home. So what’s the point of the mask anyways? Meanwhile I’m here still testing negative and can’t come back. Make it make sense.”
“My argument is with rules set in place to push me into something I don’t want to do,” Beasley wrote to another Twitter user. “I’m not pushing anyone to not get vaccinated. That is my own personal choice.”
“It’s unfortunate when players get fined, but these rules have been agreed upon and in place and well-communicated for some time,” McDermott told reporters. “It’s important for us that we focus on being safe and healthy … and on the purpose of why we’re here, which is to win football games.”
“Respect is very important, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not passionate about doing the right thing for the greater good of our country,” the coach added. “That, in my opinion, means getting vaccinated.”