During his first press conference after missing four practices while on the NFL's Reserve/COVID-19 list, Kirk Cousins spent ten minutes dancing around questions about the vaccine. He called it a "very private health matter" and declined to share if this situation — the unvaccinated Cousins had to isolate for five days after being deemed a high-risk close contact to rookie QB Kellen Mond, who tested positive — had made him consider changing his stance on getting vaccinated.
Without outright saying it, Cousins made it abundantly clear that the answer to that question is no.
"I’m at peace with where I’m at and I’ll follow the protocols vigilantly," he said when asked if life would be easier if he got the vaccine.
As far as this specific situation, Cousins said the size of the Vikings' quarterback meeting room was the issue.
"I’ve had six negative tests since I was last with Kellen, don’t have any symptoms, so I don’t have COVID," he said in his opening statement. "Last time I was in a room with Kellen was, whatever, six days ago, and I’ve come to learn since I’ve been at home that the tracers we wear actually showed I was not a ‘close contact’ as I understand being a close contact, which is being within a certain number of feet. The challenge was, the meeting room we met in was deemed to be too small for us to have been in a room together — even if we were significantly apart from each other. So we’ve since moved to a different meeting room, and as I understand it, had we met in a larger room, I would not have missed practice."
Cousins explained that he's going to do everything possible to follow the league's protocols "vigilantly" and avoid being deemed a close contact again. He even mentioned extreme measures like meeting outside — "if it means meeting outside under a goalpost in January, if that’s what it takes to get to the playoffs and be in playoff games and win playoff games, then that’s where we’re going to meet" — or setting up a plexiglass barrier around where he sits in the team facility.
The veteran quarterback used the term "whatever it takes" multiple times when talking about how he can stay on the field this year and not miss any games.
"As long as I can not test positive and not have a close contact, I’ll be there for every game," he said.
Apparently, the only thing his "whatever it takes" sentiment doesn't apply to is getting the vaccine that 90 percent of the NFL's players, virtually all of its coaches and staffers, and over 165 million Americans have received.
If Cousins were to get vaccinated, avoiding being a close contact would be much less of a concern. Per NFL protocols, vaccinated players who test positive or are close contacts can return within 24 hours with consecutive negative tests. Cousins could choose that route and not have to go to extreme measures to stay on the field. Instead, even while doing as much as he can to be vigilant, he'll continue to run the risk of being put into five-day isolation — or longer, if he himself tests positive — at any moment.
With everything he's talking about, the best and easiest way to do that would be to just get vaccinated, right?
"Correct," he said. "And the NFL has encouraged us to get vaccinated. As I said, it’s just a very private health decision, and I’m going to keep it private as such."
Cousins said he is doing his research, but also said he has never talked to Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's Chief Medical Officer. He said the league's current protocols are "fluid" and could change at any point this season. He said that moving meeting rooms will avoid a repeat of what happened this past week. Cousins also said that the 2020 proved that the protocols work, that masks and social distancing work.
The issue with that argument is that it's now 2021, there's a Delta variant that is spreading across the country, and there's a safe and effective vaccine available to everyone.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has been very outspoken in his frustration with his unvaccinated players and people across the country who won't get vaccinated. Zimmer's concerns are not just about football, but about keeping people safe from the Delta variant with case numbers rising.
One can imagine there might be some friction in that relationship, but Cousins said he and Zimmer had a "tremendous conversation" on Wednesday night. He declined to disclose what was said, but explained that it was a "very positive discussion" and that he came away from it feeling great.
Things are mostly back to normal for the time being. Cousins and Nate Stanley were activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Thursday, although Mond and wide receiver Myron Mitchell are still on it. Cousins will be back out there Thursday after missing four practices for the first time in his football career, dating back to high school.
Still, the fact that training camp was just four days old when this issue occurred doesn't bode well for five-plus months of smooth sailing.
Cousins is far from Minnesota's only unvaccinated player; the Vikings have the lowest rate of players with at least one shot in the entire NFL at 70 percent. But as the starting quarterback, he's the most valuable and least replaceable player on the roster. He's also the highest-paid player on the team and holds an important leadership position because of the position he plays.
Could a rift end up forming between vaccinated and unvaccinated players in the locker room if this pops up again during the season? Cousins doesn't think so.
"Tight-knit group," he said. "Lot of respect for one another. I don’t think it’ll be an issue."
Still, it's notable when someone like Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson explains his decision to get vaccinated by saying he's "too important to this team" not to do so, and that the Vikings need all hands on deck if they want to be in the best position to win a championship.
The fact of the matter remains that Cousins can do everything possible to follow protocols in an effort to avoid testing positive or being a close contact to someone who does, but it's not entirely avoidable. By choosing not to be vaccinated, he's putting himself and his team at a potential competitive disadvantage because of the much steeper isolation protocols that exist for unvaccinated players.
Maybe he'll be successful in his mission and there won't be any issues. Or maybe something like this will happen again, Cousins will miss a game or two, and the Vikings' playoff hopes will take a hit because of it.
If that happens, one can only wonder what the reception would be from the vaccinated players in the locker room who are truly doing "whatever it takes" to bring a Super Bowl to Minnesota.
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