Update: After the ESPN report dropped, the Vikings said they are still holding discussions with Rick Dennison
A day after the NFL sent a memo to teams stating that teams experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players could be forced to forfeit games, ESPN reported that an NFL coach is out of a job after refusing to be vaccinated.
According to Courtney Cronin of ESPN, Rick Dennison — Minnesota Vikings assistant coach — is no longer on the Vikings staff as an assistance coach after refusing to receive the COVID vaccine. For all Tier 1 staff — which includes coaches, front-office executives, equipment managers and staff — the vaccine is a requirement, unless the receive a medical or religious exemption.
It is believed that Dennison is the “first NFL position coach to leave his team after choosing not to receive a vaccine,” as ESPN notes, but the exact circumstances of his departure remain unclear.
However, after the ESPN report circulated online, the Vikings released a statement hedging on the reported development, saying they are still holding discussions with Dennison. “The Vikings continue to hold discussions with Offensive Line Coach Rick Dennison regarding the NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 Protocols for training camp and preseason games. At this time, Coach Dennison does not have an exemption to the vaccination requirements of those protocols. We will adhere to the requirements of the protocols and of applicable law,” said the statement.
The ESPN reporter who broke the story responded to the development as well, saying, “Vikings appear to leave some door open that Dennison could be moved to a different role but the only way he could coach the way he’s done his entire career — be on the field, interact with players, etc — i.e., not virtual coaching, would be if he receives a vaccine for COVID-19.”
Vikings running back Alexander Mattison, showed his support for Dennison on Twitter.
“Smh, they act as if we didn’t successfully play a whole season last year,” Mattison wrote. “Don’t make no sense. I’m rockin wit you 100% coach.”
Dennisons’s departure comes amidst an increase in COVID-19 cases across the U.S due to the Delta variant. In mid-June, when an estimated 30% of cases were attributed to Delta instead of 83% as they are now, the NFL released their protocols for training camps and for the 2021 NFL preseason.
While players are not mandated to receive the vaccine, the protocols put in place for unvaccinated players are severe.
For players who have been fully vaccinated, nearly all restrictions have been relaxed. Masks and daily testing will no longer be required, travel restrictions have been lifted, they will be allowed to eat in the cafeteria with other vaccinated individuals, and no restrictions will be placed on social/media/marketing/sponsorship opportunities, among other things.
For players who have not received the vaccine or are yet to be fully vaccinated, life in the NFL will be different.
COVID-19 testing will be required every day, masks must be worn when at the team facilities and while traveling, they may not use the sauna/steam room, leaving the team hotel to eat at restaurants is prohibited, and no social/media/marketing/sponsorship activities will be permitted.
A five-month study, which has been cited by the CDC, says that 99.5% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are among people who have not been vaccinated.
The NFL’s memo on Thursday highlighted the league’s rules regarding COVID outbreaks during the season.
If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is cancelled due to a Covid outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest and will be deemed to have played 16 games for purposes of draft, waiver priority, etc. For the purposes of playoff seeding, the firefighting team will be credited with a loss and the other team will be credited with a win.
The memo set off a firestorm on social media.
The highest paid receiver in the NFL – DeAndre Hopkins — said his decision to not receive the vaccine was making him question his football future.
“Never thought I would say this, But being put in a position to hurt my team because I don’t want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the NFL,” Hopkins said in a now-deleted tweet.
Hopkins — who later sent out a tweet saying he had “9 more years in me,” — garnered support from multiple players for his initial statement.
“Some of y’all clearly didn’t get what I’m saying here lol.. the NFL is pressuring/ ‘influencing’ guys to get the vaccine,” NFL all-pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey said on Twitter. “They are saying if there is an outbreak, the team will be penalized heavily. My point is no teammate of mine will feel that pressure from me because whether you are vaccinated or not, there is still a chance of getting covid. I thought my point was simple but I guess not lol. ”
Leonard Fournette, running back on the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has also appeared to speak out against the league, tweeting “Vaccine I can’t do it…”. He quickly deleted the post.
Dennison has been a coach in the NFL for 27 years, spending time with the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens.
This article has been updated to include additional information, including a statement from the Vikings.
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to email@example.com.
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Author: Joe Morgan