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Sometimes Bill Belichick’s condescending surliness is amusing. Other times it’s annoying.
In this case, it was downright dangerous.
The New England Patriots coach misrepresented the rate of vaccinated NFL players and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday and, by doing so, cast doubts on the efficacy of the vaccines. Even if he felt put on the defensive by questions about cutting Cam Newton, who is unvaccinated, it was completely irresponsible – particularly by a coach who is supposedly one of the smartest in the NFL.
The league has done an admirable job in modeling good behavior during the pandemic, from its strict protocols to its vaccination rates. As of last week, almost 93% of NFL players were fully vaccinated, and the rate for staff was even better at 99%.
Yet the Delta variant has affected the NFL, too, with 68 positive cases between Aug. 1-21. But, contrary to what Belichick claimed, it is not a “pretty high number” of vaccinated players and staff who have tested positive.
In fact, Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said last Thursday that the positivity rate for vaccinated personnel was 0.3% while the rate for those not vaccinated was 2.2%. For those who struggle with math, like Belichick evidently, that means the rate for the unvaccinated was seven times higher.
Yes, you read that right. Seven.
“I mean, you guys can look it up,” Belichick snipped. “You have the access to a lot of information.”
So do you, Bill. The NFL has gone out of its way to be transparent on its COVID-19 numbers, rightfully proud of what it’s managed and knowing it can serve as a much-needed example to the rest of the country.
Which is what makes Belichick’s willful misconstruing of the facts so troublesome.
We are incredibly fortunate in this country to have access to three different authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines, which reams of data have shown are effective in both preventing the disease and, more importantly, reducing the chances of severe infection, hospitalization and death.
Yet there are still too many who don’t trust the vaccines – and basic science, for that matter – because their attitudes and opinions have been poisoned by conspiracy theories and misinformation. Belichick might not be peddling snake oil remedies or disparaging Dr. Anthony Fauci, but by suggesting the vaccine doesn’t make a substantial difference in combatting COVID-19, he’s not a whole lot better than those who do.
“Your implication that vaccination solves every problem, I would say that has not been substantiated based on what's happened in training camp this year,” Belichick said.
No one has ever claimed that vaccines would solve “every” problem, let alone bring a magical end to COVID-19. Especially when millions remain stubbornly resistant to getting inoculated.
But we saw the significant difference they made in the spring and early summer, when case rates plummeted and the country began to return to normal.
The Delta variant has made things trickier, because it is more contagious. Contrary to what Belichick implied, however, the vaccines are still working. While effectiveness against infection has dipped, the Centers for Disease Control said data shows they continue to provide strong protection against hospitalization.
Reflecting what we’re seen elsewhere in the country, the vaccinated NFL personnel who’ve gotten COVID-19 have been largely asymptomatic or had mild cases. It’s the unvaccinated Americans who are getting extremely ill and dying, stretching hospitals and medical personnel beyond capacity.
While there have been no reports of any NFL personnel getting that sick in recent weeks, thankfully, several teams including the Patriots have found themselves short-handed because of the league’s protocols for unvaccinated players.
There is a mandatory five-day quarantine for unvaccinated players deemed to be close contacts of someone with COVID-19 while there are no such restrictions for vaccinated players so long as they’re asymptomatic and have two negative tests 24 hours apart.
Maybe Belichick was irritated at the questions about Newton and the decision to cut the quarterback. Maybe he’s sick of having to navigate protocols when we all hoped we’d be past them. Maybe he just enjoys being cantankerous.
None of it is an excuse.
It’s heartbreaking that we’ve reached a point where so many Americans are willing to disregard or misconstrue basic facts because it suits their point of view. I never would have expected Bill Belichick to be one of them.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bill Belichick's misleading COVID-19 vaccine comments are harmful