Panthers LB Perryman will wear mask, won't get vaccinated

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Denzel Perryman thinks everyone should be wearing a mask until the coronavirus pandemic subsides. But when it comes to getting the vaccination shot, the Carolina Panthers linebacker says no way.

“Nothing against it. I mean, I know people that got the vaccination and still caught COVID, so to me it’s like, ‘what’s the point?’” said Perryman, who spoke to reporters Friday at training camp while wearing a mask.

The NFL says 87.9% of its players have had at least one vaccination shot and that 19 clubs have better than a 90% vaccination rate. Seven clubs have 95% of their players vaccinated.

The Panthers would not release their vaccination statistics, but in recent weeks they were listed among the teams with the highest vaccination rate.

Perryman said no one within the Panthers organization has tried to coerce him into getting vaccinated, but added he does hear some subtle jokes from Panthers coach Matt Rhule from time to time about getting the vaccine.

“He doesn’t pressure us at all, but he does make some jokes like, ‘Hey, if you don’t get vaccinated you’re going to have to wear the mask,’ or ‘Hey, if you get vaccinated you will be able to do this,’” Perryman said. “I’m like, ‘Hey coach, I’m not doing it.’”

Rhule said earlier this week there is “no doubt” in his mind that there is an advantage to having a highly vaccinated team.

“The more guys that are vaccinated the closer we can be in meetings, the more we can be around each other,” Rhule said Tuesday. “But at the end of the day it is everyone’s personal decision. So we provided information and made it clear, hey, this is best for us to operate. But you have to do what you’re comfortable with. I’m not here to tell anyone else what to do.”

Under the protocols developed by the NFL and the Players Association, vaccinated players are currently required to be tested once every 14 days and aren't subject to quarantines through contact tracing. On the other hand, unvaccinated players remain subject to daily testing, contact-tracing quarantines and several other restrictions.

Unvaccinated players cannot leave the team hotel or interact with people outside the organization while traveling, while vaccinated players can. They must travel on a separate plane, cannot eat meals with teammates and may not use the sauna or steam room at NFL facilities.

Perryman said he has no problems with the protocols.

"At the end of the day it is my choice,” Perryman said. “I know unvaccinated players can't do this and can't do that. When it comes to family, you can't do this or that. But it is what it is. It doesn't bother me. Like I said, it is my choice.”

Perryman spent his first six seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers before signing a two-year, $6 million contract with the Panthers this offseason. He’s expected to start for Carolina at inside linebacker.

Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold became fully vaccinated on Friday after expressing some initial concerns last month about getting the shots.

“For me, I was just making personal decisions the whole way,” Darnold said Tuesday. “That was pretty much it for me in terms of getting vaccinated or not. It’s been a personal decision the whole time so I weighed my options and made my decision that way.”

Rhule said he understands that some players don't want to get vaccinated.

“Some of those guys articulated their reasons (for not getting vaccinated) and you know what, I'm good with it,” Rhule said.

Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said he's a firm believer in the vaccine. His entire family has been vaccinated. He said the team has tried to educate players about the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines so they can make the best decisions for themselves.

Panthers infections control officer Eddie Levins and Dr. Nancy Gritter, the team's lead internist, have both spoken to players in groups about the vaccine, according to a team spokesman.

"We don't tell them what to do," Fitterer said. “We can't say ‘Hey listen, you do this and you do that.’ All we can to is educate them. But it is their own personal decision.”

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More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Steve Reed, The Associated Press

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