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As rapper Nicki Minaj tweets her “medical expertise” against the COVID vaccine, former NFL players came to downtown Fort Worth Saturday in an effort to support the global effort to get the shot.
As Black Americans, they all get it. They are all acutely aware of the history — and the well-documented horrors — between America’s medical professionals and many members of the Black community.
They are all aware of the trepidation, fears, paranoia and concerns that many of their own family members, friends and loved ones have expressed about this new vaccine. And as the number of COVID-19 fatalities in the United States (673,000 as of Sept. 18) is poised to eclipse the estimated 675,000 American deaths from the last century’s pandemic, those who feel they can make a difference now have felt compelled to step forward.
That’s why so many former NFL players were in downtown Fort Worth at medical tents staffed with nurses on Houston Street.
To plead not only with their own fellow NFL alumni, but to those who are still so reluctant to take this vaccine.
“It’s some information from somewhere, or somebody, or some website, offering what they perceive as truth. Especially in the Black community,” former Dallas Cowboys safety George Teague said. “I’m not saying I agree with it, but I am saying I understand it.”
Trepidation and concern over the COVID vaccine is not endemic to the Black community in the United States. Since the spring, the percentage of American adults who say they will not get vaccinated has ranged from about 20 to 30 percent. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, about 14 percent of Americans identify as Black, either wholly or partially, making this more than just a Black issue.
Guys like Teague and former NFL player Liffort Hobley are actively trying to help convince their family, friends and others in their community to listen to people other than the Nicki Minajs of the world.
To be fair, Teague admits he was not “all the way up” for taking the shot in the beginning. He, like many people, questioned the safety of the new vaccines that were produced so quickly. But as more information and study findings became available — along with FDA approvals — his concerns faded.
Now he’s trying to convince people to get vaccinated.
“We want people to make informed decisions, and talk to your doctor, not your buddy or Facebook,” NFL alumni president Beasley Reese said. “We have had a hard time with some of our big name [former NFL players] because they are not comfortable with it.”
In talking to the former players who may still be reluctant, Reese’s argument focuses on common medications that most people have been taking without question for decades.
Those would be other vaccines that were introduced to combat things like Chickenpox, measles, mumps, polio, rubella and whooping cough. All potentially deadly diseases that essentially have been wiped out.
“They never think about those,” Reese said. “They just think about COVID. It’s not just about COVID. Or you. It’s about everyone else around you. And they don’t think about it that way.”
He has friends and family members who have refused the vaccine — until it hits home for them. When a loved one gets sick, or is put on a ventilator, then the threat of this virus is clear.
At Saturday’s event, the Black former players said they are all too familiar with the stories about the “medicine” in the Tuskegee Experiment, the infamous “study” of 600 Black Americans who had syphilis. The study began in 1932, and the patients were treated like human lab rats for doctors who wanted to monitor the effects of the disease.
The program did not officially end until after a 1972 investigation by the Associated Press chronicled what had happened.
The patients were lied to by nurses to doctors. And even when penicillin was available, the sick men were given placebos. Those horror stories fuel the concerns and fears inside the Black community, and have been cited for decades as a reason not to trust the medical establishment.
Some see the COVID vaccine is an extension of the 40-year Tuskegee Experiment.
“That was a long time ago and that was a selected group of individuals, and it was all conducted in a closet,” said Hurles Scales, the former North Texas player and Green Bay Packer who is also now a recently retired college instructor. With COVID, “We are talking about something that is affecting everybody in the world.”
Ninety years ago, the internet didn’t exist and information on anything had to be obtained mostly in libraries through books.
Today, information — whether fact or fake — is available on your phone 24/7. In some cases, medical professionals have sharply disagreed, though nearly all doctors and government officials have urged for people to take the full number of doses of whatever vaccine you can get.
And then there are the media pundits, TikTok influencers and, of course, celebrities.
It’s no wonder the frustration with “Dr.” Nicki Minaj is present.
“It’s unfortunate we have grown-ass people who listen to entertainers when it comes to their health and well-being,” Hobley said. “If you are not a physician, exit stage left. I don’t want to hear it.
“We have a 50 percent vaccination rate in Texas,” he said. “It’s not like we are well and everything is OK. We’re not.”