It's not exactly everyone into the pool, or gathering around the bonfire. The NFL's “Back Together Saturday” at training camps is all about football.
Well, also about having fans return to watch, with all 32 teams conducting open practices Saturday as part of a unified effort by the league.
Some clubs have invited local youth teams to their facilities. Most are focusing on family activities. The Ravens made free tickets available and 37,000 were reserved within 24 hours. Other clubs are doing this exclusively for season ticket members.
Notably, the Colts, Patriots, Saints and Washington Football Team will be offering COVID-19 vaccinations at their sites. Already, 4.8 million vaccines have been administered at 24 NFL team complexes. So far, 88.5% of players have had at least one shot of the vaccine and 20 teams have more than 90% of players vaccinated, including eight with more than 95% vaccinated.
“We’ve been working with the county health department in Indianapolis, and we have training camp in a county north of Indianapolis, and we started working with that department on protocols to be in place for training camp,” Colts spokesman Steve Campbell said. “In working with them on training camp prep, this idea came up and we were on board.”
The team has been advertising a vaccination tent during camp, with walkups welcome and no appointments necessary.
The Colts have been working on the project with Hamilton County Health Department, Indiana University Health and the Indiana Department of Health for six weeks. The county's health department will oversee the vaccinations during training camp.
At the end of last year, Hamilton County opened with three vaccination clinics. Now, there are more than 50 sites within the county providing vaccination opportunities. The county recently surpassed 70% of eligible residents being fully vaccinated.
Said Christian Walker, public health preparedness coordinator for the Hamilton County Health Department: “We are very appreciative of the Indianapolis Colts to partner with us during such a high-profile event within our community.”
Colts general manager Chris Ballard is among the most outspoken advocates for getting the COVID-19 vaccine. That goes not only for his team — coach Frank Reich, who has been vaccinated, has tested positive and is missing time this week — but for the public.
“I can’t lie to you, there are times when I wonder why our country doesn’t have consequences for not being vaccinated to keep other people safe. ... We have lost the sense of team," he said. “Like that used to be a real advantage for us as a country – the service, thinking about others and taking care of others. This vaccine has become so political.”
Ballard insists that getting the vaccine is simply “the right thing to do.”
“But we are not going to force people to do it. Guys that are not vaccinated, they understand and they have their reasons for it," he said. “They are going to work through it and I don’t want to just because of protocols (have them) get vaccinated. You want them to do it because it’s the right thing in their own hearts.”
Ballard also understands these are personal decisions and people arrive at them at their own pace.
"When you force somebody to do something, there’s an automatic guard that comes up that they are going to look for the opposite side of it,” he said. "I think as people get more educated, they get more comfortable, they start seeing that ... As they start to see the research and that data come back, they make an educated decision and decide which way they want to go.”
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