NFL Team May Oust Offensive Line Coach Who Refused COVID-19 Vaccine

2021-07-23 16:17:24

The Minnesota Vikings may part ways with Rick Dennison after the offensive line coach and run game coordinator refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Dennison, a veteran NFL presence with 27 years in the league, is believed to be the first NFL position coach imminently facing unemployment over a potentially life-saving vaccine.

While ESPN was first to report Friday that Dennison was already out, a Vikings spokesperson told HuffPost in a statement that discussions with Dennison were ongoing. 

“At this time, Coach Dennison does not have an exemption to the vaccination requirements of those protocols,” the team said. “We will adhere to the requirements of the protocols and of applicable law.”

With Dennison at the wheel last year, the Vikings mounted a prolific rushing offense. ESPN reported that the 63-year-old would be replaced by assistant offensive line coach Phil Rauscher.

The news didn’t sit well with second-string Vikings running back Alexander Mattison, who tweeted a message in support of his former coach:

Note that Mattison’s claim of having successfully played a whole season isn’t true. While the Vikings did a better job than many clubs at containing COVID-19 outbreaks, numerous players on the team did test positive for COVID throughout the season. Star receiver Adam Thielen missed a game while on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Under an NFL memo released earlier this summer, Tier 1 individuals ― which includes assistant coaches ― must be vaccinated unless they have a valid medical or religious reason not to be.

Tier 1 staff who refuse a vaccine and haven’t been granted an exemption aren’t allowed to interact with players in person, nor are they allowed in meeting rooms or on the field ― all significant impediments to successfully fulfilling one’s responsibilities as a coach. 

On Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell warned that serious competitive and financial penalties could be levied against teams with COVID-19 outbreaks during the season.

That includes forfeiting games and salaries, with clubs where an outbreak occurs being responsible for financial losses incurred by the opposing team. 

As of July 16, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos had the highest vaccination rates, while the Washington Football Team and Indianapolis Colts had the lowest.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article indicated coach Rick Dennison was no longer with the Vikings. A Vikings spokesperson has since clarified that discussions regarding Dennison’s employment are ongoing.

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