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Bears TE Jimmy Graham unloads on NFLPA over coronavirus protocol, 17-game season

Graham started the day with a tweet saying he was “forced” to get the vaccine and railed against the union’s proposal for increased testing of vaccinated players.

Graham is entering his 12th NFL season.
AP Photos

The starting point on Bears tight end Jimmy Graham’s frustration with the NFLPA was that he had to tweet at the union’s official account just to get ahold of someone. If that’s the nature of his relationship with the organization that’s supposed to be representing his best interests, any substantial complaints are sure to be contentious.

Graham’s fury over the NFLPA’s proposal that vaccinated players be tested daily in response to the coronavirus surge and the Delta variant’s high transmissibility spilled into Twitter before practice Thursday, and he expanded that objection to his broader displeasure with how the union is run.

“I’m a grown man, and I wish somebody would speak to me like a grown man and let me have a little bit of say in some things,” Graham said. “It’s just a culmination of things.”

Among those issues, Graham has been adamant against the NFL going to a 17-game schedule, which begins this season. Players approved that change by a 51.5% vote in March 2020 and increased their share of revenue from 47% to 48.5% by doing so as part of the new collective-bargaining agreement.

Graham was particularly miffed by the notion that the NFLPA was proposing players would get tested even on days off and during their bye week, but that was a misreading of the memo. There is an underlined sentence near the end that clearly states the opposite.

Defensive tackle Akiem Hicks is the Bears’ player rep and has declined to speak to the media throughout training camp. Punter Pat O’Donnell is the alternate rep.

After a season of strict protocol to avoid spreading the virus last season, the NFL relaxed those rules for vaccinated players this season. It also set up harsh penalties, such as $14,650 for something like failing to wear a mask at all times while inside the practice facility, for the unvaccinated.

That arrangement made Graham feel “forced” to get the shot.

“It was very advantageous to [get vaccinated] than not to — That’s really obvious with the max fines for every little thing that you could do,” Graham said. “So now that I’m vaccinated, am I going to be fined when I miss one of these tests in the morning?”

Bears coach Matt Nagy has stressed to players that their workdays will be easier if they’re vaccinated, but has stopped short of insisting that it’s the right thing to do. He reiterated Thursday he accepts that some players have made their decision and won’t be swayed.

“Everybody is a little bit different on what [they] would do,” Nagy said. “People can do what they want to do. I believe in that. But at the same time, we want to educate and encourage them to do it so that we can all be able to move on and listen to what the experts are saying.”

The new policies have been stressful to some players who did not want to get vaccinated, and Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins reacted so strongly that he openly wondered whether he would continue playing.

Graham is annoyed by the proposed additional measures and is upset with the union for not giving players more of a voice in them, but it hasn’t entered his mind to leave the NFL.

“I’m going to go out here and score touchdowns, regardless,” he said. “It’s frustrating. I’m just confused at the whole thing. But no, I’m going to go out here and play football. That’s what I do.”