Football as the Metaphor for Life: What We Can Learn from the NFL on the COVID-19 Vaccine

In his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech, John Lynch said, "I want to state the National Football League is the greatest metaphor for life that I've ever known." I have a world of respect for the nine time Pro-Bowler and now General Manager of the San Francisco Forty Niners and still his words challenge me. Really? Football is life? I suppose Ted Lasso is proclaiming the same truth.

On one level, his proclamation should not surprise me. The yellow jacket, the bronze bust, the platform to recall and celebrate past success allows one to wax poetic about the power and potential of this great game and the organization that makes it the most popular sport in America. Even with emotions running high, I want to recognize his metaphor works.

Three words that come to mind when I think of NFL leadership are cronyism, nepotism and sexism. Truth be told, these isms are characteristic of too many powerful organizations. Sadly, drug use, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault and homophobia are friends of the program. In the NFL, you have the obscene wealth of the owners, the extreme wealth that agents make, and the inordinate cost of season tickets. The PSL should be criminal. Unfortunately, the list goes on. Did I mention the Black Hole?

But Lynch does not focus on the shortcomings, the limitations of the National Football League. Instead he says:

It challenges each and every one of us that plays this great game in every way possible. Everything about the game is hard and tests your will. It compels every man that puts on a uniform to not only do their best, but to be their best. In football we quickly discover we're only as strong as our weakest link, and if we're to achieve the goals that we've set for ourselves, we must all learn to play together and pull together. Each of us comes from a different walk of life, but when we huddle up, we huddle up as a team. It doesn't matter where we come from or your background. All that matters is the fulfillment of one goal: victory.

And I think few too people know this metaphor extends to a battle we are fighting in our country and in the world today: COVID-19.

The NFL is now nearly 90% vaccinated! These increased numbers didn't get there by happenstance. Due to the league and players' union, every player is not required to get the jab, However, life is challenging for those who won't. And I want to thank them for that.

In the ESPN Daily Podcast, How NFL Team are Combating Vaccine Hesitancy I learned the league is actually leading a vaccine campaign in the US. According to Kevin Seifert this is the last thing he would ever imagine saying.

While many people are aware "if an unvaccinated player causes an outbreak that forces a game to be canceled, that player's team must forfeit. And every player on both teams will lose out on their game check." Many fans—and players!— are upset about this decision. They wonder Why should the vaccinated get punished for what others have chosen not to do? Good question. And yet, is that not corollary to our reality right now? If all those who are able to get the vaccine had gotten it, we would not be required to wear masks indoors once again. For the record, it's NOT fun and it's hard to teach with a mask on. The metaphor is real.

But what many people do not know are what I see as positive measures the league has taken to promote getting vaxed.

If you are vaccinated, there are very few protocols or restrictions on your actions around the team and in your personal life as well. You do need to wear a contact tracing device in case you get exposed and must get tested every 14 days (this is subject to change based on the variant). You can eat in the cafeteria, you don't have to worry about social distancing, you can go out to dinner when you are on the road, you can leave for the bye-week. You can do all the things—for the most part—that NFL players have been able to do in previous years to the pandemic

However, if you are unvaccinated, you are subject to all the protocols and a few additional ones that we saw in 2020. You must wear a mask at all times except for when you are participating in a game or practice. You have to stay in town during the bye-week so you can keep getting tested so you don't bring anything into the building. When road games happen, you are going to have to travel separately, you can't leave your hotel room, you can't eat with the team in the cafeteria, and you can't see your family without them being subject to testing. Players have to wait 30 minutes for their test results so they can join team meetings. The "No Fun League" fines players if they are late for meetings! This means athletes arrive at practice extra early. In short, the NFL is making it very difficult for players to stay unvaccinated.

You can call it a maximum pressure campaign, but those steps, those requirements remind me of Lynch's message. These times are hard; the past year has tested my will in more ways than I thought possible. And yet, we must strive to do our best and be our best. We must work to stay healthy, to be clean and as far as I'm concerned get the vaccination that offers that prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death. Do we have the goal of beating the virus? Do we want to protect people like Ron Rivera—coach of the Washington Football team who is immunocompromised due to chemotherapy treatments in 2020 and cannot get the vaccine? Indeed, we come from different walks of life. Fortunately the vaccine is completely free. And what might we all say to one another in that huddle as we continue to work toward victory over this pandemic? Let us continue to work toward fulfilling a goal—putting COVID 19 in the history books for both better and for worse.

Lastly, I would like to write a whole lot more about John Lynch, but his message was but a starting point for this post. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the US Open in June at Torrey Pines!! I loved his speech because it reflects what I consider to be shared values. He thanked his wife Linda first, his children—each one of the four by name, and his parents. He said, "your standards and expectations were always high, your love always unconditional. The Catholic faith that you instilled in me and blessed me with is my guiding light. Where would I be without it? Where would I be without both of you? Mom and dad, I'm truly grateful and I love you." I too am grateful to my parents for the Catholic faith they instilled in me. And for what it's worth, leaders in the Catholic Church have encouraged the faithful to get vaccinated.

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