In just a matter of weeks, college football season will officially begin.
For some, the fall serves as a continuation from the truncated spring season completed a few months ago. For others, kickoff marks the first competitive contest among programs in nearly two years.
As the days draw nearer to actual football, there is a growing sense of normalcy with practices in full swing and anticipatory optimism on the horizon.
But the threat of COVID-19 — the virus that took away the seasons of Alcorn State, the entire MEAC and HBCUs at the Division II level in 2020 — ominously looms with a delta variant mutation that is sickening and killing at a frightening pace.
Understanding this, it is important the public — and everyone associated with the sport of football — work to get vaccinated to reduce the virus’ destructiveness within communities and protect the season.
A pair of HBCU football teams — Southern and Benedict College — have certainly taken a step in the right direction by announcing 100 percent vaccination status.
Jason Rollins, the first-year Jaguars coach said at SWAC Media Day the entire team, including coaches, were vaccinated.
“We had a lot of Zoom meetings with parents,” said Rollins. “We dealt with facts and not myths to help the players make the best decisions for themselves and their families.”
And just this week, Benedict announced that its collection of players were fully vaccinated.
— BenedictTigersFB (@GoTigers_BC) August 14, 2021
Southern and Benedict are just a couple of schools to report reaching the vaccination benchmark. Other programs across the HBCU landscape are approaching the goal while some have work to do.
The message has been made clear that minimizing the impact of COVID-19 on football through vaccination is the way to go. SWAC Commissioner Charles McClelland said as much last month by all but mandating athletes get the shots. The SIAC went a step further by requiring vaccination to participate in league-sponsored events.
Schools around the country have similar rules in place for attendance at upcoming football games this season. The city of New Orleans announced that proof of vaccination (or a negative COVID-19 test) would be needed to enter public venues, including the Superdome where the annual Bayou Classic is played.
While even a completed full COVID-19 vaccine dose regimen does not guarantee a reprieve from infection, the inoculations provide solid protection against severe illness or worse. Most of all, the more people who are vaccinated, the less likely the virus is to spread in a population. Nothing in our environment is 100 percent or a silver bullet, not even potentially life-saving drugs. But every option must be explored to prevent worst-case outcomes for the collective.
That’s why masking, social distancing and other mitigation measures are still necessary, too.
Critically, America certainly needs to pick up the pace. As it stands currently, just a little over 50 percent of the country is fully vaccinated. And in states where HBCU football games will be played feature dangerously low percentages.
In Mississippi, where three HBCU teams are located, only 35.8 percent of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated.
In Alabama, a hotbed of Black college football, a minuscule 35.2 percent of its population has the needed doses to be considered armed to fight the virus. Arkansas, Georgia, Texas and Tennessee are well shy of the 50 percent mark. Then there is Florida — the current COVID-19 petri dish — disturbingly is breaking state records for cases and hospitalizations.
A significant boost in vaccine uptake will go a long way in assuring that there will not be a repeat of 2020 and early 2021 when schedules were upended by cancelations and postponements.
We could learn a lesson from Southern and Benedict and push to get more shots in arms as quickly as possible for the sake of football, our families and communities. If these young men can be dedicated and disciplined, so can all.