HOOVER, Ala. — Maybe the most pressing issue of 2021 SEC Media Days has been the COVID-19 vaccine.
On Monday, Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey announced that six of the 14 schools have reached the 80-percent vaccination threshold to stop regular COVID-19 testing and mask-wearing in respective team facilities.
LSU, Georgia and Arkansas have been revealed to be three of those programs that have exceeded that number per Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger and, as of Wednesday morning, Alabama can be added to that list.
"I think that we're pretty close to 90 percent maybe of our players who have gotten the vaccine," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said inside the Wynfrey Hotel. "And I'm hopeful that more players make that decision, but it is their decision."
Alabama has brought in renowned medical doctors for meetings to educate the team on the COVID-19 vaccine and Saban himself recorded a PSA back in May encouraging citizens of the state to get vaccinated theirselves.
"I think everybody just has to make the best decision for themselves," Crimson Tide wide receiver John Metchie III said. "I think at Alabama our coaches and our staff has done a great job of kind of just informing us, bringing people in to talk to us and make us aware, and I think at the end of the day everybody just has to make the best decision they think is best for themselves and their family.
"Personally, I know that most of our team and our staff is vaccinated"
Saban used the two most recent examples of COVID-19 showing its ugly head in the sports world — North Carolina State baseball and the New York Yankees — to illustrate the decision that players have.
According to Sankey, games in 2021 that cannot be played due to COVID-19 will go down as forfeits.
"I think there's two issues when it comes to vaccines," Saban said. "First of all, we have a majority of our players who have gotten the vaccine, and we've given every player on our team the choice to do that. I think there's a couple things to consider. First of all, you have a personal decision, which comes down to risk — risk of COVID, relative risk to the vaccine. It's the same thing. We don't really have a lot of knowledge about how this stuff is going to affect people in the future, so that's a personal decision that everybody has the right to make.
"On the other hand, you also have a competitive decision to make because you're going to be a part of a team. So how does the personal choice and decision you make affect the team?...
"But players have to understand that you are putting your teammates in a circumstance and situation. We can control what you do in our building. We cannot control what you do on campus and when you go around town, who you're around, who you're associated with, and what you bring into our building.
"So every player has a personal decision to make to evaluate the risk of COVID relative to vaccine, and then they have a competitive decision to make on how it impacts their ability to play in games, because with the vaccine you probably have a better chance. Without it, you have a lesser chance that something could happen, a bigger chance that something could happen that may keep you from being on the field, which doesn't enhance your personal development.
"Then how does it affect the team if you bring it to the team? So these are choices and decisions that every player has to make. Our approach has been I think we've had three medical doctors sort of give lectures to our team about the pros and cons of the whole COVID circumstance, the vaccine circumstance, so that they can make intelligent decisions about what they do."
Alabama defensive lineman Phidarian Mathis revealed that he himself had been vaccinated and went on to share why others in the locker room might not get the shot.
"Everybody got their own reason why they want to get it and why they don't want to get it, so at the end of the day, you've just got to support everybody's decision," Mathis said. "I got it, so I don't see nothing wrong with it, but at the end of the day, you've got to respect everybody's decision on why they don't want it or do want it...
"I really don't know their personal reason, but at the end of the day, I was taught just to accept the fact they probably got something going on, reason they don't want it. So that's their opinion on how they feel about it at the end of the day."