Dennison, the Vikings’ offensive line coach and run game coordinator for the past two seasons, is believed to be the first NFL position coach forced to leave his team after choosing not to receive a vaccine. His ousting comes following the announcement of harsh punishments handed down by the league for the upcoming season if there is a COVID-19 outbreak.
Backup running back Alexander Mattison voiced his frustration with the decision to part ways with Dennison, coming to his coach’s aid over Twitter on Friday.
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Mattison: ‘Don’t Make No Sense’
Mattison replied to SportsCenter’s tweet with the announcement of Dennison’s departure with a strong message supporting his coach.
Mattison’s response sparked controversy on social media as his message in support of his coach quickly spiraled into suspicion that he will not be getting vaccinated for the upcoming season.
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While Dennison has not been formally fired by the Vikings, Minnesota has already promoted offensive line coach Phil Rauscher to Dennison’s position. The Vikings also hired Ben Steele, who had just recently lined up a position with Auburn.
The decision came concerning NFL guidelines that would have stripped Dennison of having direct contact with players. The vaccine is required for all Tier 1 staff — defined as coaches, front-office executives, equipment managers and scouts, per NFL guidelines. Players are not required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine but will face strict protocols during training camp and throughout the season that vaccinated players will not be subject to.
Whether players get vaccinated has become a contentious issue, given it could impact their contributions and chemistry with the team.
Coach Mike Zimmer detailed the differences unvaccinated players would undergo this season.
“They [unvaccinated players] are going to be wearing masks, they’re going to have to social distance, they’ll have daily testing. They won’t go home for bye week and have to come back here and test every day,” Zimmer said in a press conference in June. “When we go on the road, they won’t be able to go out to dinner with anybody. They’ll have to travel on buses differently and travel on planes differently… a lot of meetings will be virtual.”
Newly signed Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson described the differences as “living in a different world” from the rest of the team. More than 78 percent of players league-wide have had at least one shot, and 14 clubs have at least 85 percent of players vaccinated. All 32 teams have at least a 50 percent vaccination rate among players, per NFL.com.
The recent push by players to get vaccinated comes with news that if there is an outbreak, teams could end up forfeiting games as the NFL will not be nearly as flexible rescheduling games this season. Peterson finds getting vaccinated as a no-brainer when considering the possibility of missing a game due to a possible exposure or false-negative test.
“If you’re not vaccinated, you’re just living in a different world. Why put yourself at risk of going through that again. Everybody has their different views on the (vaccine),” Peterson said on the All Things Covered podcast. “But at the end of the day, if we all in this in trying to win a championship and there’s a very small percentage of those shots affecting people, why not put yourself in the best position possible to win a championship if that’s what you have a desire of doing.”
Notably, Mattison was part of an ad campaign in his home state of California encouraging residents to receive a vaccine.
Some fans found Mattison’s message on Dennison’s departure as an indication that he’s not going to be vaccinated, however, his comments indicated more on his defense of everyone’s right to choose.