The Atlanta Falcons, a mediocre NFL franchise known principally for failing to meet high expectations and blowing seemingly impenetrable leads, may have secured a lead that even they can’t choke away. 

On Aug. 16, the Falcons became the first — and so far, only — NFL team to vaccinate all of their players against COVID-19. Although well over 90% of the league’s players have received at least one dose of the vaccine, certain holdouts threaten the league from being fully inoculated. Despite the overwhelming benefits of the vaccine, only one franchise has successfully rallied all of its roster to protect the team and others from the resurging virus — our bumbling, hometown, oxymoronic Falcons. 

The Falcons are a paragon of public health, not just for the NFL — which has continued to strengthen its COVID protocols despite rising vaccination rates — but for the country  at-large. The 53-man Atlanta roster recognized the gravity of the pandemic and its current surge, and promptly responded by submitting themselves to a no-cost, relatively painless life-saving measure. This comes at a time where Georgia, and especially the Atlanta metropolitan area, is considered an “extremely high risk area” for unvaccinated individuals.

The NFL as an organization is also not taking the pandemic lightly, and it never has. Current COVID protocols are strict for members of every team, but the particular burden they pose for unvaccinated players operates as an incentive to get vaccinated. For instance, unvaccinated players must undergo daily testing while vaccinated players only need to get tested once a week. 

Unvaccinated players must also wear masks inside team facilities or risk hefty fines. After being fined $14,650 for not wearing a mask inside, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, one of the league’s notable vaccine holdouts, promptly received his first dose, which he announced on Instagram with the caption “for the greater good.”

The safety of the COVID-19 vaccines, both in their makeup and effectiveness against the virus and its variants, has been repeated ad nauseam for months now. At this point, continued skepticism of the vaccine, whether because of its supposed tracking contents or the ridiculous thought that it’s an unnecessary protection against COVID, amounts to a complete dereliction of duty. Vaccine holdouts require the total abandonment of empathy and rationale, perhaps the very foundational traits that make humans, humans.  

The Falcons didn’t let fear of the mythological long-term detriments of the vaccine stop them from putting the common good first. They didn’t even contend that their natural immunities were enough to withstand a virus that has thus far killed over 639,000 Americans, including over 21,000 Georgians. They stepped up because their team and city needed them to. 

Only 41% of Georgia is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including just 51% of 18-64 year olds. This comes at a time where that very age group, of which the Falcons players are a part, are making up a majority of COVID cases as the Delta variant rages nationwide. The virus is still here, and isn’t going away anytime soon.

Trust the Falcons’ lead. Get vaccinated.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the home of the Atlanta Falcons, served as a COVID-19 vaccination clinic this past spring. The Falcons are the NFL’s first team to reach a 100% team vaccination rate in the NFL. (Emory Wheel/Gabriella Lewis, Digital Operations & Podcast Editor)