NFL Alumni in Baltimore and across the country are supporting COVID-19 vaccination efforts. At a recent event with LifeBridge Health at the Center for Urban Families, an attendee submits her name for a chance to win a prize.

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

NFL Alumni Health has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to launch an outreach and education initiative tackling COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.

The nationwide campaign has rolled out in 20 NFL Alumni chapter cities and regions, including Baltimore, and features more than 40 current and retired NFL players who are encouraging the public to get vaccinated amid ongoing concern over the highly contagious Delta Variant, which according to CDC estimates, accounts for more than 80% of new U.S. COVID-19 cases.

Former Baltimore Ravens players Kyle Richardson and Obafemi Ayanbadejo are involved in the new outreach initiative and represent the local chapter of the NFL Alumni Association (NFLA). Richardson serves as the president of the Baltimore area chapter of NFLA and Ayanbadejo is the vice president.

While there are millions throughout the U.S. who have received COVID-19 vaccines, there are many eligible Americans who are still on the fence, still skeptical or are outright doubtful of the vaccine – many of whom are in areas with alarmingly low vaccination rates.

Ayanbadejo and Richardson hope to use their influence to instill a sense of assurance among those who are still uncertain. Ayanbadejo, a running back and fullback in the NFL for 11 seasons, and Richardson, a punter for nine seasons, were members of the 2000-01 Ravens Super Bowl team.

Ayanbadejo, also a human performance expert and nutritionist, said there was little to no hesitancy when he was initially eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I trust the data and the science behind the vaccine and as soon as I was able to get vaccinated I did in April,” said Ayanbadejo, a resident of downtown Baltimore.

“I think that the real message I’m trying to share with people is I want to build vaccine confidence in folks the best way that I can. If it’s anecdotally by sharing my experience as a person who’s been vaccinated, if I can do it as a human performance and resilience expert, I’m willing to put that hat on.

A nurse prepares to administer vaccinations at the August 21 NFL Alumni and Lifebridge Health COVID-19 vaccination drive at the Center for Urban Families.

“I’m willing to deploy any strategy to get people to come to the table and have a genuine and honest, open discussion about what the data says; not what Facebook says; not what your uncle, cousins, mom, dad say; not misinformation, I want to talk about facts.”

NFLA’s campaign will include public service announcements from players, media interviews, a campaign website highlighting player perspectives, answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccines and community events, according to an NFL Alumni Health release.

The most recent outreach effort by the NFLA Baltimore chapter was an event held on Aug. 21 in collaboration with the Center for Urban Families. 

Richardson, Ayanbadejo and other Ravens alumni joined the, LifeBridge Health mobile vaccine team in the first of an expected series of coordinated efforts between the NFLA and local healthcare providers to educate and vaccinate area residents. The event featured a DJ, health information, giveaways and free doses of the COVID-19 vaccines.

In contrast to Ayanbadejo, Richardson said he was skeptical of receiving the vaccine at first. But after educating himself, he made the decision to get the vaccine.

“For us and the NFL Alumni initiative, we’re really just about encouraging people to look out there and get educated, talk to your medical professional if you haven’t,” said Richardson, a resident of Baltimore County.

“It’s not about the NFL Alumni forcing any people into conversations they don’t want to have or want to do. It’s really about the community involved in the discussion and let the medical professional be the voice of reason, and let that individual make their choice.”

The leading cause of doubt is misinformation being propagated on social media platforms in Ayanbadejo’s estimation. 

He, along with dozens of other NFLA officers, are using social media messaging, PSAs and a myriad of other resources to steer vaccine-hesitant individuals in a direction they believe will work in society’s best interests in the fight against the coronavirus.

“I really hope that we have some influence on the discussion that can get people back to the table to really talk about why this is so important and how what I do affects you, and what you do affects the next person,” Ayanbadejo said.

“We’re all kind of interconnected in this battle against COVID, and I think that’s what we really want to push. We want to push an open-armed, compassionate, empathetic-driven discussion.”

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