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If Nick Rolovich had bothered to explain himself even a little bit, perhaps he’d be worth your sympathy. If this grown man of 42 years had articulated his actual objection to the COVID-19 vaccine instead of deflecting and obfuscating like a petulant child, perhaps he’d be worth your respect.
Instead, the former Washington State coach allowed himself to be removed from a $3 million a year job — an amount he almost assuredly will never see again in his lifetime — with no explanation for why he refused a life-saving shot that more than 189 million Americans and billions around the world have received. If Rolovich’s refusal to get the vaccine is a stand on principle in the face of a mandate from the state of Washington that he doesn’t agree with, it would be instructive to hear more than the few mumbled words he’s offered since it became obvious in July his unvaccinated status was going to be the only reason to pay attention to his football team this season.
That’s the most confusing part of this entire saga that ultimately led to Rolovich being fired Monday when he failed to receive a religious exemption to the vaccine mandate, triggering his termination. What does he actually stand for? What does he really believe? And why would he give up not just on this job, but any legitimate hope of a fruitful career in college coaching, over a point he hasn’t shown any interest in trying to prove?
Despite stonewalling any question about Rolovich’s vaccination status or his attempts to get around the state mandate, this is not a private matter. He’s the highest-paid employee at a public university whose job status depends on getting the vaccine. Which means careers have been hanging in the balance both on his coaching staff and among the young men who chose to play for his program. His silence has been nothing more than selfishness.
After Washington State beat Stanford on Saturday night, 34-31, Rolovich received a Gatorade bath from players, walked into a news conference, said how much he loved being around this group of players and stated matter-of-factly that he was waiting for an e-mail to see whether he’d have a job on Monday.
“I’m gonna come to work tomorrow, get ready for BYU,” he said. “I’m gonna grade this film. I don’t think this is in my hands. I’ve been settled for a long time on it, and I just believe it’s going to work out the right way.”
The idea that it’s out of Rolovich’s hands, of course, was always nonsense. If this is a discussion about rights and the freedom to accept the consequences of being unvaccinated, the choice was always in his hands and his hands alone.
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It’s hard to imagine anyone working their entire adult lives to get a head coaching job at a Pac-12 school only to give it up for the right to more easily contract and spread a dangerous virus. But if that’s how Rolovich wants his career to end while antagonizing his employers and embarrassing common sense, he certainly has that option.
The question is why.
Is it really about religion for Rolovich, who comes from a Catholic background? Is it an outgrowth of fringe political views? Or is he just a strange, stubborn man who took a position early on the vaccine, dug in when the criticism came his way and boxed himself so far into a corner that he’s now out of a job?
Maybe it doesn’t matter, because the way Rolovich handled this from the beginning exposed him as a poor leader, a narcissist and a coward. If he really loved being around this “beautiful” team as he described it Saturday night, he’d have gotten the shot so he could be around them for the rest of this season and beyond. If he had a legitimate conviction about defying the Washington mandate, he’d have explained it in public instead of turtling whenever a reporter gave him the opportunity. If he truly believed in what he was doing, he’d have had the courage to own the stakes of his decision instead of ascribing a black-and-white decision to athletics director Pat Chun in the news conference Saturday night.
“If that’s not what he wants, I guess I’ve got to move on,” Rolovich said, referring to Chun. “But I like being here, I like being the coach here, I love these kids and I’ve just got faith in it.”
But what does Rolovich have faith in aside from his own impulses? Even after giving up the job of a lifetime to refuse a vaccine, we may never really know.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nick Rolovich doesn't deserve sympathy; skipping vaccine was his call