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Washington State football coach stands by decision not to get vaccinated, but says he's not 'against' vaccines

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Nick Rolovich has his reasons for not being vaccinated against COVID-19. The Washington State football coach won’t say what they are, but he also made clear he’s not “against” vaccinations. He even encouraged “everyone to consider being vaccinated.”

“The reason for my individual choice will remain private,” Rolovich said Tuesday during a news conference on Zoom. “However, I want to make it clear, I respect, I support all the work being done by the state of Washington, who as a state has one of the highest percentages of vaccinations in the country.”

Rolovich’s comments Tuesday were his first since he revealed last week that he had elected not to get vaccinated, making him the only head coach in the Pac-12 Conference not to get the vaccine while he works at a university that requires it.

His mixed message on the topic Tuesday also contrasted with other coaches in his league who spoke about why they thought getting vaccinated was crucial.

Rolovich’s decision comes as his own university has required proof of COVID-19 vaccination for all students engaging in activities at a WSU campus or location. The Pac-12 also required all athletes and coaches attending its preseason football media day Tuesday in Los Angeles to have been vaccinated, making Rolovich’s in-person absence especially conspicuous. He was the only Pac-12 head coach not scheduled to attend in person and instead made his appearance online via Zoom.

New Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff said Tuesday that eight Pac-12 teams are at least 80% vaccinated, including four that are at least 90% vaccinated. Washington State apparently is one of the four teams under 80%. According to Rolovich, his team is nearly 75% vaccinated.

Kliavkoff said his league, like others, is considering forfeitures for teams that can’t field enough players because of a COVID outbreak.

Regarding Rolovich, Kliavkoff said, “We are not in the middle of that discussion with him. That’s not our business, but we were able to require that anyone who attended media day be vaccinated and we’re happy to have all of the coaches, student-athletes and head coaches who were vaccinated joining us.”

Washington State Cougars head coach Nick Rolovich
Washington State Cougars head coach Nick Rolovich

Washington State’s website says the university “intends to extend the (vaccination) requirement to all employees and volunteers engaging in activities on a WSU worksite. Exemptions will be allowed for medical, religious, or personal reasons.”

Rolovich said he plans to follow university policies for the unvaccinated.

“As I go forward, I plan on adhering to all policies that are implemented for the unvaccinated,” Rolovich said. “I’m not against vaccinations, and I wholeheartedly support those who chose to be vaccinated including our players, staff, coaches.”

WSU athletics director Pat Chun said in a statement recently that he has had “multiple conversations” with Rolovich regarding his decision not to get vaccinated.

“While WSU has a vaccination mandate, there are policies and procedures for employees to follow who are not vaccinated,” Chun’s statement said.

The vaccines generally have shown to be safe and highly effective at preventing hospitalizations, with evidence also indicating that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection or to transmit the virus to others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in May.

“Our team is roughly at 75% fully vaccinated or in the process of getting fully vaccinated,” Rolovich said. “We will continue to educate the remaining players on the benefits of it, and I think we all know this virus is deadly and these vaccines are free. I urge everyone to consider being vaccinated.”

Asked if he was putting his team at risk by not getting vaccinated, Rolovich stuck to his statement. He also acknowledged there was a fear of his decision causing a distraction.

"I don't mean to cause any heartache to this university or this athletic department or this state," he said.

By contrast, WSU’s rival at the University of Washington says 100% of its football staff is vaccinated and more than 95% of its team is vaccinated. The team brought in experts to talk about the vaccine, UW coach Jimmy Lake said Tuesday. He said the evidence was “overwhelming.”

“After all the information we received … it was 100% that you should go get this vaccine,” Lake said. “It is the best thing to do to end the pandemic and protect your safety.”

Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch said only eight of his 118 players are not vaccinated, giving his team a vaccination rate of 93%.

"We believe it’s a competitive advantage to get vaccinated and to live freely, let’s say, in terms of their health and their wellness," Fisch said.

Stanford coach David Shaw said he was not going to mandate vaccination on his team but emphasized each individual on his team has a responsibility to the group. “I think it’s better and safer for all of us if everybody is vaccinated,” Shaw said.

“More so than ever, if you are now living outside of what is wise and now you could potentially affect two people, which affects eight people, which affects now a bunch of people, and you can put yourself in a position to really costing your team a game,” Shaw said.

Follow Brent Schrotenboer on Twitter @Schrotenboer

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Washington State football coach not 'against' vaccines, won't get one

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